Kaufhof has become aufhof – what happened to the “K”? Traditional department stores are fighting for survival and top locations are no longer guaranteed to attract customers. So how could the town use the large, vacant building from 1975? The vacant department store in Hanover belongs to Austrian company Signa. The firm is planning a new building in its place that will offer a mixed-use concept of workspaces, residential units, a hotel, and creative spaces.
Until work starts, the City of Hanover is using the existing building until probably February 2024 as a forum focusing on the design of future-proof city centers. It’s also inviting locals to innovercity, an open urban-development platform that wants the public to get involved.
We talked to Tatjana Sabljo about the project. As an architect, she’s in charge of designing aufhof’s interior. Tatjana is a professor of contextual design and construction at the University of Hanover, CEO of Sabljo Architekten BDA and chairwoman of the Hanover BDA (Association of German Architects).
aufhof and innovercity show that we need a new approach to the future.
Tatjana, what were the key challenges in converting the old Kaufhof building into innovercity – an open, interactive forum?
The typical department store layout provided a large area without any partitions, which is a good starting point. We had to clear the shop windows, but didn’t need to dismantle anything else. The former sales space was almost completely separated from the shop windows, so there was no real link between the inside and outside. The fixtures in front of the windows were removed to reveal the interior and to arouse the curiosity of locals, but also to add daylight to the building.
We saw the depth of the building as an opportunity to structure the many offerings on the 5,000 square-meter space. Areas like the auditorium, or the cafeteria, are immovable, while the workspaces and areas for showcases are more fluid and dynamic. Which is why we’re delighted that most of Wilkhahn’s furniture and partitions are on casters and can be adapted as required.
The conversion is also all about reusing the old infrastructure. How do you reconcile old with new elements in this concept?
You can still see the previous structure of the building clearly. The old counter for the cash register has been retained. The signs indicate what the building was last used for and the new elements are added like a second layer. The existing walls, floors, and ceilings were covered with bold geometric colored surfaces to highlight the new and independent era. To reflect the willingness to start with a blank canvas, the new items of Wilkhahn furniture are white, lightweight, and mobile. The tables on casters can be repeatedly repositioned and the chairs are also very lightweight. The setting can change several times in one single day. It’s not static, but constantly in a state of flux.
What’s your goal for this pop-up space and what do you wish for its future?
aufhof and innovercity show that we need a new approach to the future. Buildings and cities need to adapt to constant change and respond more flexibly to it. Buildings need to allow different types of usage. But we people need real spaces to meet, interact and prompt innovations to come about.
At aufhof, we want to create spaces that locals can call their own and discover new opportunities. In terms of innovercity, we want to create a prototype for an innovation space that brings academia into the city center so that people can come into contact with it, have a say and play a role in the future. The University of Hanover and sponsors are creating a special space where locals, organizations and companies can collaborate on innovative solutions to current problems.
I’m delighted that we’ve pulled off this fantastic project in conjunction with strong partners like Wilkhahn, my colleagues and six students on the interior design and product design courses.
Thanks very much for talking to us. But one quick question to finish up with – is there an event that you’d particularly recommend to aufhof visitors?
aufhof offers a wide range of events, all of which I can warmly recommend. They range from festivals to workshops to talks to panel discussions to exhibitions. You can find an overview of the what’s on offer on the aufhof website.
We’re backing the innovative project with office furniture to match: 90 Aline sled-base chairs and 18 Timetable Smart tables. Once these are no longer required for aufhof, the university will continue to use them.