In 2009, the demise of Hertie left Berlin all at once with a number of large, empty department stores that are now being renovated and converted to new uses. The largest of these stores, measuring 9,500 square meters and located in the district of Tegel, was not opened until the midseventies. It stood and still stands on the corner of Berliner Strasse and Gorkistrasse, the former open to traffic, the latter a shopping street, or, more precisely, a pedestrian zone of the kind that has existed in every German city since the sixties, if not before.
Although the store is in a very good location— at the entrance to the pedestrianized shopping street and with a subway station right at its door—the awkward relationship between the corner building at the intersection and the long building on the street, and between the façades of large gray concrete and the blunt hip roof of black slate, make for precisely the sort of architectural structure that Werner Düttmann, architect and director of building for the Berlin Senate, would have called a “boulette.”
When architecture is presented in the media the fixation remains more or less completely on beautiful, newly constructed buildings. In reality, however, conversions and renovations—for example, of nineteenth-century factories or office and commercial buildings from the fiftiesto the seventies—constitute the largest portion of architectural production in German cities even today. From an ecological point of view this can only be a welcome development.
The conversion and renovation of the Hertie department store in Tegel, however, will also turn a clumsy structure into an aesthetically attractive one. The entire ground floor will open outwards via shop windows. While the building’s overlong lower floors, which lead from Berliner Strasse quite some way down Gorkistrasse, have up to now only been characterized by the slight zigzag of seven concrete fins and seven window strips, this part of the building will be much more clearly subdivided in the future. The articulation of the vertical lines will help ensure that the individual businesses have their own addresses.
The conversion and renovation will involve more than the long building element, however, it will include the upper stories of the corner piece as well. Both the straight and tilted parts of the façade will be fractured and folded—to liberate the structure from its rigidity, to lend it a sculptural character, and to move the viewer into Gorkistrasse via the direction of the folds. The components of this façade are made of anodized aluminum and punched at the top left, where, illuminated from behind by artificial light, the logos of the building’s stores will appear.
Apart from the insertion of numerous partition walls, the interior will feature fewer changes. With a rental space totaling 7,635 square meters, the stores will range in size from 130 to 2,200 square meters. There will probably be a large grocery store and a small restaurant on the basement floor, and a shoe store and two large clothing stores on the ground and second floors.