AT THE TOP! Berlin by Jasper Architects transforms a former department store into a new transparent office space for the digital age

Berlin, Germany

JASPER ARCHITECTS’ bright and flexible design for SIGNA’s new offices in Berlin facilitates new forms of productivity, creativity and community.

In 2016, Martin Jasper and his team at JASPER ARCHITECTS submitted the winning design for the competition organized by SIGNA, for a comprehensive transformation of the former department store, Centrum Warenhaus, completed in 1979.

The competition’s task was to present a concept for transforming this massive, square building of 80 by 80 and 67,000 square meters into an office space for the digital age – a new chapter for an icon in Berlin’s history.

SIGNA commissioned JASPER ARCHITECTS in a planning partnership with Gebers & Pudewill GmbH for the general planning of the renovation, and the building was completed in March 2021.

AT THE TOP! Berlin recently received a 2022 International Architecture Prize from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Center for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

The department store was originally designed as an introverted building with no openings. This principle had to be reversed because natural lighting was a major challenge.

The idea presented by JASPER ARCHITECTS was to cut out triangular shaped prisms on each side of the square building to flood the interior with natural light and thus break up the massive monolithic geometry.

The floor space lost with this intervention was recovered by two floors added to the top of the existing structure, plus a roof pavilion and an extensive roof terrace.

The resulting “voids” entirely redefine the urban presence of the building. The project thus reveals both the past of the building and points to the future with a new fully glazed envelope.

AT THE TOP! Berlin

The dimensions of UP! Berlin was all too familiar to the architects: the existing building looked like a monolithic extrusion of a typical Buenos Aires city block.

A typology that continues to confront architects with a major challenge: how is the supply of natural lighting managed?

Cuts of all sizes and shapes are made in the urban mass and planning regulations from different eras overlap, creating complex urban geometries that always flow from the same square base of the city block.

For the architects, this was a source of inspiration for the project proposal.

At first, the building was emptied; the entire existing facade was removed and the building block was reduced to its concrete skeleton.

With huge circular saws, the voids were cut out in the old structure. What was left was a regular grid of concrete columns and four empty cores.

Parts of the building’s history have been uncovered: the patina of decades of history has become visible; old technical infrastructure and traces of rust became visible and were kept in place.

Raw, industrial charm became a canvas for the new.

The facade is composed of fully glazed, opaque modules with integrated leaves, distributed in a ratio of three to one in order to provide the amount of shade necessary to regulate sunlight.

In the voids, glass doors give access to the terraces.

The old framework is revealed to passers-by behind the new glazed envelope, and from the inside, the urban environment can be experienced as a complete panorama at all levels.

Boardroom boxes and translucent cast glass walls were strategically distributed with a floor color concept by Studio Aisslinger’s.

What was once an indoor-focused mall has been reimagined as an outdoor-focused center for productivity, creativity and community.

Project: UP! Berlin
Design Lead: Martin Jasper
Associate architects: Gewers & Pudewill GmbH
Responsible for general planning: Martin Jasper, Joerg Westphal, Henry Pudewill, Alexander Mendelsohn and Georg Gewers
Façade design team: Tobias Becker and Dennis Trutty
Planning Team: Lene Nettelbeck, Sara Staschiok, Nabil Rajjoub, Andre Flaskamp, ​​​​Andrey Yordanov, Hanui Sori You, Astrid Pudszuhn, Simon Lindenberg, Santiago Flagel, Charly Alazraki, Miriam Herwald and Nik Wenzke
Interior design: Studio Aisslinger and JASPER ARCHITECTS
General contractors: KoHa Bauausführungen und Immobilien GmbH and Rupert App GmbH & Co. Stahl- und Metallbau
Client: SIGNA Real Estate Management Germany GmbH
Photographers: HG Esch, Nils Koenning and Robert Herrmann