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Revitalizing Empty Department Stores – An Unused Opportunity?

Revitalizing Empty Department Stores – An Unused Opportunity?

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Press Release  (4404 character)

Everyone agrees. The key to the successful reinvigoration of urban brownfield sites is the quality of a multidisciplinary process. Developers, planners, and municipalities are challenged to pool their knowhow, in order to find bespoke solutions. The sustainable revitalization of empty department stores is right at the top of the list.

The initiative “Neues Leben – New Life for Department Stores,” which was launched by ATP Hamburg in 2023, demands a rapid “joining-of-forces” by the real estate industry, planners, and local authorities. Because the urgently needed revitalization of empty department stores in top central locations is one of the core themes for the reinvigoration of Germany’s dying inner cities.

The online platform BUILTWORLD is currently hosting a series of events that are offering revitalization experts an opportunity to constructively discuss these urban planning challenges. The opening event in the series was “Urban fabric – How do we sustainably remodel our inner cities?” The discussion between Albert Achammer (ATP architects engineers), Stefan Müller-Schleipen (Die Stadtretter), and Steffen Wittwer (Sonar Development), which was moderated by Jonas Haberkorn, attracted almost 350 interested viewers, a figure that confirms the topicality of the issue.

Many department stores that once acted as inner city magnets have lost their function and large amounts of retail space stand empty. But Albert Achammer, the initiator of New Life, is convinced that these “monuments” don’t have to be demolished but, rather, can be remodeled as new attractions and commercially revitalized for the long-term: “With their impressive loading capacity, spans, and floor heights, the basic structure of the old department stores offer us huge amounts of flexibility,” says the Hamburg architect. “Remodeling is by far the most sustainable and, hence, the most logical measure – not only in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. As integrated designers, we at ATP know how to handle such complex challenges through multidisciplinary cooperation to the satisfaction of all participants.”

According to Achammer, the success of such a revitalization project depends upon more professionalism in the planning process and particular sensitivity in the conceptual approach: “We don’t want to reinvent the world but, rather, develop pragmatic, tailor-made solutions for each location and its culture, history, and urban planning potential. And of course this is only possible in collaboration with municipalities, developers, users, and many other stakeholders.”

In such projects it is essential to consider not the building in isolation but, rather, the overall urban situation, emphasizes Stefan Müller-Schleipen from the Stadtretter, who advise local authorities throughout Germany. Repurposing projects often result in the well-known, monotonous “mixed use” approach. The expert insists that project developers must move away from such low-innovation solutions and accept the long-established need for “flex use” buildings that enable us to rapidly react to essential changes of use: “Life and the world of work are changing rapidly as a result of which we must also learn to think more quickly!”

The necessity for a radical rethink regarding new concepts for vacant department store buildings is confirmed by Steffen Wittwer from Sonar Development. His functional ideas focus on the social needs of young people in particular: “Young people need meeting places. If, for example, local authorities could acquire such buildings themselves they could also offer a home to ‘non-economical’ functions such as a library or a café for the young,” says the experienced project developer, before adding: “In the interests of our inner cities, we must move away from the idea that the profitability of individual properties is the key factor. We build living environments for the people of today. Single-use retail was yesterday’s product.”

pr atp albert achammer wang 2022 7023 (.jpg )

Architect ETH Albert Achammer, initiator of NEW LIFE und Managing Director/Architecture of ATP Hamburg

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