Megastructures – Reuse and Extension – Karstadt Munich


The fast changing dynamics in society has a direct impact upon architecture and our cities. When megastructures such as department stores lose their function we should not seek to erase the typology but instead should reinvent and/or adapt them to better suit our needs. This project discusses the flexibility and potential that characterizes many department buildings of the 1960s and 70s through a case study of the Karstadt in Munich, Germany.

Most department stores are located in prominent locations in our cities and provide, with their flexible floorplan and vast size, a great possibility to densify the center of the city and reacting to the neccesity of apartment densification. The project proposes to sensitively restore the existing building keeping in mind the ‘gray energy’ that will play a decisive role in forward-thinking energy consumption. The Karstadt building was built in 1968 as a department store but has since lost its original function as a retail space. It is located in Munich, Schwabing and the existing structure is sixty meters by sixty five meters in plan. To preserve the nature of the structure the integration of the adjacent Department of City Archives is intended not only to solve their spatial capacity problem, but also to create a greater accessibility into the project and thus a more prominent presence as a public domain in the city.

The irregular grid of the columns, the four staircases that are located on the facade and the enclosed delivery zone are the three main features that characterise the building. I chose to extend the former department store to the boundary of the neighbouring apartment buildings on one side, defining the space between the Cityʻs public swimming pool – Nordbad – and the City Archives so that the body of the building on one side becomes ninety meters to covers an increased area of 5400 square meters per level. The building works around a central courtyard that goes through all floors, letting light into the inner facade. To have additional light in the deeper parts of the building, I designed courtyards as lighthouses that penetrate through from the second to fifth floor (residential levels). The City Archives with its’ inherently public function is located on the ground floor and includes reading rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, workshop areas, exhibition areas and a city cafe; designed as a cohesive and freely divisible space. The first floor contains areas for the City Archives offices, conference, reading, research and document restoration. The archive building can be accessed from the courtyard as well as from the outside via Elisabeth Street. The former ramp is used as an access and exhibition area.

The second to fifth floor are residential and contain a variety of different floor plans and apartments sizes to encourage discourse between social layers. Inside the apartments the individual rooms are organised around the living room, which is in the centre of the apartment. The larger apartments have been designed to always have two facades ensuring that light travels inside the deep floor plans. The shape of the lighthouses provide, via nooks and recesses, privacy for the individual apartments. The corridors that lead to the apartments are built as a pearl chain, with winding corridors and expanding spaces in between.

The facade consists of two prefabricated concrete elements that variate in their tectonics and texture by changing additions and surface finishes. The archive facade differs from the residential facade via the insertion of a concrete element instead of a glass pane. In case of further conversion of the archive for residential use, the concrete element can then be replaced. The facade of the archive must be closed as much as possible due to the light sensitivity of documents, but it should be integrated into the surrounding area and absorbed in the urban structure.


Who influences you graphically?

For this project I did not work with a fixed reference but instead took influence from a wide spectrum of graphical influences combining different aspects of their representation both built and unbuilt. My starting reference was from Le Havre, Auguste Perret looking especially at his great attention to details in the facade, the way he placed the joints, the proportion of the windows and how he used ‘blind-windows’ as a figure of speech. Also his detailed presentation of the facade in his drawings continued as inspiration throughout the project.

Other architects that influenced me graphically are Sergison Bates Architects and Caruso St John Architects. Working for Productora Architects influenced me graphically as well. Other references varieded from the impressive paintings of Karl Friedrich Schinkel to Knapewitz und Fickert, Atelier Amont, Hans Höllein, Loelliger Strub, Miroslav Šik Architekt, Gio Ponti and Luigi Caccia Domioni.

How instrumental was the physical model in the representation of the project?

The models were necessary in the final represenation but I would say even more important during the development of the project. It was essenatial to study the dimensions of the different sizes of courtyards and the positioning and proportion of the windows. The models were inevitable to determine the step backs and layering of the coutyrad facade and many other aspects of this project and were the base for various decisions. For the project I inclined in scale from 1:500, 1:200 to 1:100 and 1:50, 1:20 until 1:10.

How do the types of drawings produced reveal certain aspects of the project you intended to elaborate more than others?

The main focus of this project regarding the program was to introduce a very high density floorpan that rethinks the standards of most common residential projects in Munich. It is essential for me to show how a variety of apartments different in shape and size can be integrated into a megastructure of this size without loosing quality and use the area as efficiently as possible. Every floorpan is different, the widening of the light courts in the upper floor levels had an interesting effect on the apartments again, that is why I chose to specifically articulate the project detail in plan.

Since the floorpan shows the impressive scale of the volume regarding the facade I wanted to emphasise the integration of the structure into the urban environment and especially the relationship between the apartments and the city Archive. The idea of a 60 meters to 25 meters long closed facade in an urban settlement like this requires high attention regarding the formulation design of the details that allow for the closed facade to be still a part of the urban construct, maintaining a ‘face’. For that reason I decided to develop my images as the one from the facade of the city archive as precisely and as accurately as possible.

Where do you see the future of the department store as a typology in the era of e commerce?

As a typology department stores have a great potential to adapt to fit many programs. I believe we have to rethink these structures and take advantage of the unique flexibility that they provide. This offers up possibilities to re approach the density of city living and intensify the relationships within mixed use buildings between residential space and other programs.


Lena is an architect from Munich, Germany who is currently living in Los Angeles. In 2016 she graduated with a Masters degree from the Technical University of Munich under the supervision of Prof. Andreas Hild. For her Master Thesis she received the Hans Döllgast Award as a recognition for the best Master project.

During and after her bachelors degree I Lena  studied and lived two years in Mexico City where she gained valuable experience with Productora Arquitectos and Fonatur. She continued her professional experience back in Germany working at offices like Hild und K Architekten, PRPM Architekten and the Chair for Urbanism And Housing, Prof. Krucker And Prof. Bates as a Student Assistant.

Lena is currently collaborating on several projects in Los Angeles, CA.