Trade in Change

Trade in Change

Everything is rushing into the stationary trade at the same time: corona, digitalisation, new mobility. Architect Caspar Schmitz-Morkramer has presented a study on this.


They say we have arrived at high-speed digitalization. Does that drastically reveal the trade’s missed connection to the topic?

Unfortunately yes! But it is not only in the retail sector that we have missed the connection to digitisation. This applies to almost all areas throughout Germany. Many omissions are now becoming apparent and Corona will often have to stall as an excuse. For the retail sector, however, it is much more dramatic, as this is the first time since 1922 that a real shutdown has been decided. This means that there will not only be a loss of sales, but a total loss. This is unique and also unforeseeable, a so-called black swan. However, due to consumer uncertainty, sales at online retailers are also collapsing. The winners after the crisis will be precisely those business models that can unite the digital and stationary worlds.


A year ago, you carried out an entire study on the subject of “Retail in transition”. It sounds like something invented for the crisis. Were the gaps already visible then that are painfully obvious today?

Of course we did not even begin to suspect a crisis of this kind. However, trade has been in one of its most dramatic phases of upheaval for many years. Digitisation has hit stationary trade hard. But the old players are never the ones who can drive their own disruption. To this extent, many players are being replaced by new ones – as in all sectors of the economy. Digitisation has fundamentally changed the needs of the stationary trade. Away from the purchase of requirements to the experience. But this is also a great opportunity for our cities. Retail will be able to flourish where there is a varied and diverse range of products. It is precisely this diversity that we have lost in our city centres over the past 50 years.


The Corona crisis is currently paralysing the economy and social life throughout Germany. New challenges are arising for the working world – home offices are establishing themselves as a new working culture for many Germans. Will this decentralised work organisation continue to be consolidated after the crisis? What does this mean for the development of office real estate – but also for residential construction with home office quality?

One thing is clear: We will retain much of what has now proven its worth. This development can no longer be reversed. In addition, the experiment of working remotely has worked out better in many companies than many had expected. I also believe in a longing and need for a workplace. The development of the last few years, which has transformed the workplace into a place of experience, is hitting the ravages of time. Due to the possibilities of digitalization in many areas to be able to work from anywhere, employers have to consider how attractive I design my workplaces so that my employees like to come to the office often. But I can also imagine more decentralized strategies for companies in the future.


Jobs should be created where there are people, where they can get to where they need to go quickly and easily. Since the workplace is no longer tied to a specific table, this can be done decentrally at very different locations. A challenge for housing construction.


Digitisation has suddenly moved to the centre of attention here too. Online platforms and dialogues, webinars are springing up like mushrooms. Digitization has also been rather difficult in the field of planning and building – see for example the tough introduction of BIM. Do you see a breakthrough through the current cooperation of all parties involved via the Internet and digital channels?

Something really amazing has happened here in recent weeks. While we have been very successful in some projects, especially with clients and planners scattered all over the country, in the past we have been able to hold most of the meetings in digital rooms, this is now the case for all projects. Not a single milestone of our projects had to be missed due to the crisis. And especially with BIM projects, meetings must be held on the model. It’s almost better if everyone can access their own computer. I also have to praise the authorities. They have quickly switched over to video conferencing and the employees can be reached by us in our home office.
The only downer: we overslept the expansion of our digital networks in Germany. And so it is now really becoming apparent how bad our network still is in some cases.

How will changes in individual mobility – electric, networked, shared – affect retail?

The stationary trade is urgently dependent on a healthy mix of public transport and individual traffic. The weighting varies from city to city. In Ulm, for example, the city centre lives much more from the surrounding area. As a result, many more customers come to the city by car than is the case in Berlin, for example.
It is not a solution to categorically condemn cars without first being able to offer alternative concepts. Public transport must be made more attractive and safer. This requires a higher frequency, more attractive pricing and – as stuffy as it may sound – cleanliness and safety.

And sharing?

Of course, sharing offers are also of great importance. Although they do not minimize car traffic, they do reduce stationary traffic. The e-bikes, in turn, create an extended radius within which the city can be reached. This means that more people come to the cities by bike instead of by car or public transport. Only we must also ensure that I can park my e-bike safely. The Dutch are showing how bicycle parking garages can be attractively integrated into the city. And last but not least, electrified transport makes for a significant improvement in the air in cities.


What does the new mobility mean for urban development as a whole?

The new mobility opens up great opportunities. If we think of autonomous vehicles, for example, it means that stationary traffic will be greatly relieved. Not only will the roadsides be cleared of avalanches of cars, but the number of necessary parking spaces in garages will also be minimized. Sidewalks can become wider and more attractive and above-ground garages can be converted to other uses. In addition, existing underground garages will offer new space for the storage of bicycles or areas for logistics for the so-called last mile. Wonderful prospects for the city!


It is astonishing how many people, in view of the restrictions imposed by Corona, are taking new paths of togetherness, cooperation, self-organisation and solidarity. Will we be able to take a piece of this with us into the world of work and business in the future? Less elbowing and arm wrestling, more cooperation and partnership – both internally and externally? Putting the human being back in the centre of attention?

Our European and Christian-influenced culture should always focus on people. However, in the past we have too often distinguished ourselves as individuals and less as a community. In our working world, the pressure has become ever greater. This also has to do with digitalisation. It has dramatically increased the speed with which we want or need to react. It would be nice if we could remember the positive experiences we have had in the course of the deceleration in recent weeks, even after the crisis. At caspar., people and their environment have been and will continue to be the yardstick and driving force behind our work.

Failures of the past and the power of particular interests threaten the further development of German cities. Stephan Bone-Winkel, founder and current member of the supervisory board of Beos AG, comments on the current urban development: “This is how your path leads past the future. FailedCities” are already threatening (immobilienmanager issue 3-20). Don’t architecture and investors need a recollection that creates lively places for people instead of ever new star architectures?

I don’t see it quite so dramatically. But I also see the creeping loss of identity in our cities. That makes it all the more important for every city to become aware of its own DNA and to be able to formulate it. Architecture must be developed from an understanding of the place and the needs of the people, not from formal fashions.


To the study “retail in transition