Chemnitz, Germany


Erich Mendelsohn's Schocken Department Store in Chemnitz, completed in 1930, is well known to architects worldwide. Yet encountering the recently renovated early-20th-century landmark will be a revelation, even for those familiar with it. The restored curved facade, with its ribbon windows and limestone spandrels, seems to float above the fully glazed ground floor, forming an arresting backdrop to a busy intersection in this central German city.

Animating this restoration is the store's recent revamp by architecture firms Auer Weber and Knerer und Lang, with exhibition designer Atelier Brückner, to house the State Museum for Archaeology in Chemnitz (SMAC). The adaptation ends a beleaguered history that included the flight of the Jewish owner, Salman Schocken, and seizure by the Nazis in the 1930s, and then, during East German rule, expropriation by the Communist authorities. A final indignity was a postwar facade reconstruction to repair windows and cladding. It jarringly altered the exterior with aluminum frames, reflective bronze glass, and dark stone.

For their recent conversion of the structure, which had operated continuously as a department store until 2001, and had been designated as a state historic monument 20 years earlier, designers developed a twofold strategy: reconstruct Mendelsohn's facade and respectfully reinterpret the interior. They needed to accomplish these goals while contending with constraints such as the building's low floor-to-ceiling heights (the levels above the ground floor are only 10 feet tall) and problems like condensation, stemming from the original facade's early curtain-wall technology.

Working from original documents and details discovered on-site, the project team rebuilt Mendelsohn's exterior. “In many places they had to save money,” notes Thomas Knerer, partner of Knerer und Lang. “We tried to re-create that.” For example, Schocken had rejected steel windows due to the expense, opting for wood instead. So, for the restoration, the architects chose operable wooden frames painted white on the interior and light brown on the outside. They replaced the dark stone with limestone from the original Bavarian quarry. And on the facade's inside face they preserved important details like polished limestone ledges that step down from the windows. But in order to enhance the assembly's performance, the designers relied on current construction practices, including double-glazing and improved insulation.

They took more license inside to accommodate SMAC's program. Here they altered the typical floor layout, which originally featured services and vertical circulation clustered at the rear, with most of the roughly triangular floor plate left open for the display of merchandise. The new configuration has support spaces lined up along opposite sides, with a quarter-pie-shaped zone in between devoted to exhibitions.

The architects have made the most of a key feature of the original department store's interior—its 20-by-20-foot grid of reinforced-concrete columns and beams. They have left these structural elements exposed, refinished them, and painted them white. Although a suspended ceiling was necessary to hide conduit, cabling, and other services, its modest depth (about 15 inches) ensures that the beams remain visible.

Some interventions help establish spatial and thematic connections between the museum's various levels. For example, an interactive model of Saxony is visible from all four stories of the new atrium extending upward from the lobby. The rear of the museum includes a multilevel “stair-ramp” made up of shallow risers and elongated, inclined treads. Enclosed by backlit polycarbonate and enlivened with environmental sounds, the new circulation element creates an engaging transition for visitors as they ascend, advancing from exhibits devoted to the Ice Age on the second floor to those that discuss the region's more recent history on the third and fourth. The fifth floor provides space for special exhibitions, and the uppermost public level—the sixth—contains an event space and museum offices.

Custom-designed luminaires that incorporate both LED strips and flexible spots illuminate the galleries. The pendants, made of stainless steel, are fixed at one end but can be rotated 90 degrees to accommodate display changes.

In order to further control the museum environment and shield the exhibitions from sunlight entering through the ribbon windows, the project team created what it refers to as the “museum wall,” a full-height, 7-foot-thick curving partition placed parallel to the facade on each of the gallery levels. On the side that faces the main exhibition area, the wall incorporates panoramas and display shelving, articulating its surface. On the other side, the one facing the restored facade, the wall allows for narrow, daylight-filled galleries, and offers space for installations dedicated to Mendelsohn's architecture, the Schocken department store chain, and the visionary client, Salman Schocken. Here one can ponder this monument's complex legacy or simply gaze at the city. Offering one of the most satisfying experiences in the building, these galleries present the project's contrasting themes—preservation and reconstruction, reuse and invention—creating an enriching, yet provocative, museum encounter.

Although the project takes liberties with the original, the renovation gives an important city landmark a new lease on life while gracefully bridging the past and the future. As Uwe Brückner, a partner at Atelier Brückner, observes, Mendelsohn's building is “no longer a place where material culture is sold.” Instead, it has been transformed into one “where it is presented and reflected upon.”


Archaeological Heritage Office of the Saxonian State Department of Science and Art
State Museum of Archaeology Chemnitz

PVG Projektierungs- und Verwaltungsgesellschaft Schocken mbH, Chemnitz, Germany

Auer Weber
Haußmannstraße 103 A
70188 Stuttgart, Germany
Phone +49 711 268 404-0
Fax +49 711 268 404-88


Knerer und Lang
Werner-Hartmann-Straße 6
01099 Dresden, Germany
Phone +49 351 804 40 00
Fax +49 351 802 41 73

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Jörn Scholz, Thomas Knerer (partners in charge),
Sebastian Reusch, Andreas Putz (project architects in charge),
Philipp Reiseder, Rainer Oertelt, Sarah Ellner, Henrik Eichin, Kathrin Flurer, Heng Huo (project architects Stuttgart),
Christoph Thomas, Benjamin Keplinger, Marcus Mittasch, Susanne Glaubitz (project architects Dresden),
Harald Schneider, Kathrin Schneider, René Horak (construction management)

Interior designer:
Exhibition designer: Atelier Brückner, Stuttgart, Germany

Structural: Erfurth+Mathes, Chemnitz, Germany

Fire protection:
Dataconstruct, Dresden, Germany
Corall Ingenieure, Meerbusch, Germany

Building services:
Obermeyer Albis-Bauplan, Chemnitz, Germany

Elektroplanungsbüro Künzel, Chemnitz, Germany

Thermal building physics:
Müller-BBM, Dresden, Germany

Auer Weber and Knerer und Lang with Rehwaldt Landschaftsarchitekten, Dresden, Germany

Light Design Engineering Belzner Holmes, Stuttgart, Germany

Tilmann Seltmann, Jahnsdorf, Germany

Roland Halbe
Böheimstraße 45
70199 Stuttgart, Germany
Phone +49 711 607 40 73


183,000 square feet

Construction cost:

$36 million

Completion date:

May 2014



Structural system
Iron concrete frame, partially retrofitted with carbon fiber lamellae (in order to handle heavy loads like exhibits)

Exterior cladding
EIFS, ACM, or other:
Rear façade: EIFS

Other cladding unique to this project:
Curved rear-ventilated curtain façade: limestone from a limestone quarry near Kelheim, Germany (to comply with the original limestone built in 1930)

Wood frame:
Monument-related reconstruction, especially the band of windows in the curved façade.
Machine-drawn restoration glass “Tikana” — Schott AG, Hattenbergstraße 10, 55122 Mainz, Germany

Custom made wooden framed main entrance doors with glass insets, based on the historical model — Tischlerei Sebastian Schulz, Nevoigtstraße 4, 09117 Chemnitz, Germany

Metal doors:
Basement level (building services): various models according to the requirements —
Hörmann KG Verkaufsgesellschaft, Upheider Weg 94-98, 33803 Steinhagen, Germany

Wood doors:
Interior doors: various models according to the requirements —
Schörghuber Spezialtüren KG, Neuhaus 3, 84536 Ampfing, Germany

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
2 main museum entrances: side folding grilles (resistance class 3), based on the historical model — Keroll Kerger GmbH, Otto-Hahn-Straße 8-10, 42369 Wuppertal (Ronsdorf), Germany

Upswinging doors, other:
Movable glass partition wall (separation between foyer and museum shop) — Dorma Varitrans Metalline, DORMA Hüppe Raumtrennsysteme GmbH + Co. KG, Industriestraße 5, 26655 Westerstede/Ocholt, Germany

Interior doors: FSB 1173, based on the historical model — Franz Schneider Brakel GmbH + Co KG, Nieheimer Straße 38, 33034 Brakel, Germany

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Foyer, ground floor: BASWAphon acoustical ceiling — BASWA acoustic AG, Marmorweg 10, 6283 Baldegg, Switzerland

Conference rooms, 5th to 7th floor: Suspended ceilings with hole matrix

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Foyer, ground floor: Custom wooden wall covering and wardrobe
Museum shop, ground floor: Custom wooden shelves, wall covering and shop furniture —
Graichen Bau- und Möbelwerkstätten GmbH, Ringstraße 9, 04654 Frohburg, Germany

Solid surfacing:
Foyer, ground floor: polished mastic asphalt

Floor and wall tile:
Floor tiles WC museum and bureaus: Agrob Buchtal Xeno, 60 cm x 30 cm, tile (black, tile joint: anthrazit) — Agrob Buchtal GmbH, Buchtal 1, 92521 Schwarzenfeld, Germany

Wall tiles WC museum:
Agrob Buchtal Tonic, 2,5 cm x 2,5 cm (tile: black, tile joint: black) —
Agrob Buchtal GmbH, Buchtal 1, 92521 Schwarzenfeld, Germany

Wall tiles WC bureaus:
Villeroy & Boch UT 01, 5 cm x 5 cm, tile: white, tile joint: white —
Villeroy & Boch AG, Saaruferstraße, 66693 Mettlach, Germany

Resilient flooring:
exhibition 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor: rubber floor covering, noraplan uni 6188 (3,0 mm) —
nora systems GmbH, Höhnerweg 2-4, 69469 Weinheim, Germany

Bureaus 5th, 6th and 7th floor: carpet covering, Fabromont Kugelvlies Arena — Fabromont AG, Industriestraße 10, 3185 Schmitten, Switzerland

Raised flooring:
exhibition 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor: cavity floor system, Lindner FLOOR and more® power N 36 ST — Lindner Group, Bahnhofstraße 29, 94424 Arnstorf, Germany

Reception furniture:
Foyer/museum shop, ground floor: Custom made wooden cash desk — Graichen Bau- und Möbelwerkstätten GmbH, Ringstraße 9, 04654 Frohburg, Germany

Interior ambient lighting:
Foyer and exhibition, ground floor to 4th floor: Custom made suspended line lights with integrated LED-downlights, stainless steel frame — Eigenart Leuchten und Beleuchtung Christoph Kappeler GmbH, Meißner Straße 15, 01445 Radebeul, Germany

Main staircases:
Custom made suspended ball lights, based on the historical model — Lampenmanufaktur Dresden, Körnerplatz 1, 01326 Dresden, Germany

5 elevators (2 passenger elevators, 2 firefighter elevators, 1 freight elevator) —
Schindler Deutschland AG & Co. KG, Ringstraße 54, 12105 Berlin, Germany

Keramag Renova Nr.1 Plan — Keramag Keramische Werke GmbH, Kreuzerkamp 11, 40878 Ratingen, Germany

Tubular radiators (situated in the two main staircases): Zehnder excelsior —
Zehnder Group Deutschland GmbH, Almweg 34, 77933 Lahr, Germany