Visions for retail

The future of retail doesn’t only depend on the behaviour of consumers. It is also closely linked to bold concepts for contemporary urban development. This is demonstrated by the winning designs in a student ideas competition organised in Germany by the Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy (a body established by the Federation of German Industries) in conjunction with Union Investment.

The Meister Areal complex in Nuremberg is a typical European retail park, featuring a hypermarket, a large electronics chain and ample parking for customers. Across Europe, numerous retail properties with an extended range of amenities for local shoppers have been, and are being, built to the same blueprint.

14 designs from 5 higher education institutions

The winning designs from the student ideas competition show that it is possible to interpret this traditional retail concept in different ways and integrate it into a vibrant urban neighbourhood. The Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy invited five prestigious higher education institutions to take part in the competition. In total, 14 designs were submitted by students. Cyril Huebner, Senior Project Manager, represented Union Investment on the jury of seven experts, which included other real estate professionals and architecture professors. “The transformation of retail will not succeed without fresh approaches to urban planning. Both the real estate industry and policy makers need more visionary ideas that challenge entrenched ways of thinking and are also functionally compelling. That is precisely what the winning design, Pixel Quartier, does,” says Huebner.

Daniel Karmann

Prof. Gunther Laux, architect and professor of urban development, planning and design in Stuttgart, describes the representative nature of the competition as follows: “The theme of the competition, ‘From retail location to urban quarter’, illustrates that the future of retail can no longer be considered in isolation from the development of local neighbourhoods in a wider urban context. As such, present-day neighbourhood infrastructures are increasingly being adapted to the needs of future urban generations that are perfectly capable of imagining everyday life without owning a car and want to live their lives accordingly. Car-free living requires daily amenities to be within easy reach, which will cause new building typologies to emerge that meet these changing social needs and new urban planning objectives.”

First place: Pixel Quartier

The vision: multistorey retail in a local neighbourhood
The Pixel Quartier design impressed the jury with its modular and flexible layout. Large and small elements are blended and combined within an urban district. Commercial space in the north-west, which reflects existing commercial units, gradually gives way to residential areas located in the south-west. From a functional perspective, the approach is one of vertical mixing. Urban farming spaces and large terrace areas are also envisaged, with the aim of boosting quality of life. Retailers are accommodated in a multistorey building that includes a car park. The project could be developed in several phases and thus takes the needs of existing tenants Media Markt and Real into account.

Second place: Synergy Spaces

The vision: retail in a residential and business district
In keeping with the basic concept of synergies, the Synergy Spaces design focuses on blending commercial and residential space. Here again, the existing commercial area in the north of the site is used as an important reference point. A highly synergetic relationship between living and working is a feature of this design. However, in this concept, retail appears rather isolated and is less well resolved in terms of achieving the desired integration into the urban quarter. A substantial building in the south-east of the site is designated as a cultural venue. It would provide a link to a new subway station and to the planned “Tiefes Feld” development. This design could also be developed in several phases.

Third place: Roji62

The vision: retail at ground floor and basement level
Third place in the competition is essentially a special prize awarded by the jury. Roji62 aims to create a very high-density, car-free and green district with an emphasis on strong neighbourhood structures and a good mix of ages among users. The design takes its inspiration from small-scale Japanese building types and has a clear focus on ecologically sustainable construction, with a high proportion of wooden façades. Each intervening space is blended with the urban environment and life takes place on shared residential streets with many small inner courtyards, or in private but outward-oriented apartments. In this design, retail is mainly spread throughout the ground floor and basement levels of the district's buildings to the east along the railway line. Residential apartments are located on top of retail and commercial spaces.

A wide range of retail opportunities

The ideas competition was used by the students primarily as a practical topic for their final projects. Union Investment has not agreed to take forward or implement any ideas from the competition. However, the concepts clearly illustrate the diverse ways in which retail can be integrated into modern urban planning.

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