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What can we do with these blocks?

Roundtable discussion in Berlin: New perspectives for department store buildings

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Press Release  (9153 character)

ATP and PwC Berlin organize a high-level roundtable discussion on the subject: What can we do with these blocks?

Berlin, 22nd June 2023 – Europe’s leading integrated design office, ATP architects engineers, joined forces with PwC Berlin to invite an interested audience to participate in a fascinating expert seminar: NEW LIFE – New Perspectives for Department Store Buildings. The objective: to revitalize moribund department stores in Germany’s inner cities in such a way that they become a positive opportunity for all involved – city residents, visitors, owners, and users. Selected experts from the real estate sector came together as part of the NEW LIFE Initiative to discuss potential solutions.

Diverse perspectives and expertise
The format of the roundtable discussion reflects the complexity of this challenge, which has yet to be solved: “Unfortunately there’s no universal remedy for the reuse; each case must be examined individually” explains Albert Achammer, the architect and Managing Director of ATP in Hamburg and initiator of NEW LIFE. “As an integrated design office we are used to looking beyond the horizons of our own discipline. This issue is too complex to be solved by the building sector alone.”

This is why the discussion was deliberately inclusive. In addition to experts from the fields of project development, design, and urban planning, representatives of citizens’ groups and the worlds of research and consultancy were also gathered around the table.
“Only by working together will we succeed in making our cities livable for the long term,” adds a convinced Achammer. The event was moderated by Florian Hackelberg from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Holzminden, and Göttingen.

Aesthetics as the key factor for repurposing solutions
“The light must stay on!” These were the words with which the host Benjamin Schrödl, a Partner of PwC, opened the discussion. He encouraged his audience to consider every imaginable potential use as an alternative to today’s desolate empty buildings.
In this spirit, the suggestions of participants went far beyond classic mixed-use solutions. Housing for all age groups, health services, mobility concepts, IT, local services, and education facilities were discussed, together with the well-known experiential factors of a “third place”.

“I think that, during the past few years, many parameters have altered unfavorably for department stores, all at the same time,” explains Achammer, pointing to changes in user behavior triggered by online and experience shopping, increased energy and rental prices, and the investment logjam caused by higher construction costs. “Owners, operators, users, and the public are all affected. And when nothing happens behind the curtain, the aesthetic quality of cities also suffers.” The major opportunity offered by these buildings, says Achammer, is due to their location and robustly built structures. One could say that they offer a playground for creative solutions. This view is endorsed by Schrödl: “We should use the currently vacant department stores as the starting point for our shopping-oriented city centers. We need, for example, living space for young people so that they can shape the life of forward-looking inner cities – rather than just being shopping guests.”
The possibility of improving and invigorating city centers through repurposing is also identified by the urban planner Jörn Walter: The gradual shift of retailing to the internet is creating room for new forms of urban life. And the expert remodeling of the vacant premises of major department stores in premium locations can also trigger an aesthetic improvement of downtown areas, emphasizes the former Chief Building Director of Hamburg.

Cooperation. Inclusion. Communication.
All the participants agreed that the sustainable reinvigoration of city centers requires the joint efforts of politicians, planners, business leaders, and researchers as well as new forms of cooperation. With its interdisciplinary orientation and broad network of experts, the NEW LIFE Initiative wants to make a contribution to ensuring that our cities became more livable again. In order to demonstrate the potential of empty department store buildings to municipal decision makers, Thomas Stini, a project developer at Redserve, proposed the creation of an interdisciplinary “Downtown Task Force,” which could support the process of developing forward-looking concepts. The idea was also welcomed by Stefan Müller-Schleipen, Managing Director of Die Stadtretter: “The municipal authority is the forum where these problems must be concretely solved. Let us act together and engage with citizens on behalf of the future of their inner cities.”

The roundtable was an inspiring and highly informative event that ended with an agreement to remain in contact and to continue exchanging experiences. The objective is to work together with engaged citizens, investors, and municipalities in order to answer the question:
What can we do with these blocks? The unanimous opinion of the evening: The basis of this answer will be interdisciplinary exchange and a shared objective: a new start.

The NEW LIFE Initiative – New Perspectives for Department Store Buildings was launched by ATP architects engineers (Hamburg office) in order to trigger discussion in society about the revitalization of department store buildings. The objective is to convince municipalities and investors of the advantages of reuse rather than demolition. The cooperation of experts from a range of sectors should drive the development of innovative solutions that encourage both economic and ecological sustainability.

The next roundtable will take place in Frankfurt on 21st September 2023.

To the initiative:

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