The successful evolution of Chapman Taylor’s Düsseldorf studio

Since being established in early 1997, Chapman Taylor’s Düsseldorf studio has built a strong reputation for designing critically and commercially successful retail and mixed-use projects across Germany and its neighbouring countries. We talk to Director Jens Siegfried about the occasionally challenging road the studio has travelled in becoming the well-respected fixture in German design that it is today.

The award-winning design for Altstadtquartier Büchel in Aachen

How did Chapman Taylor’s Düsseldorf studio become established?

It all started when I was invited, on behalf of Chapman Taylor, to talk at a shopping centre conference in Munich in October 1992. At that time, just after German reunification, the German retail sector was growing, while the UK economy was in recession. After my presentation, I met a lot of people who worked in the German retail sector, and those contacts enabled us to kick-start our work in Germany.

We were invited to take part in a number of German design competitions. We won three projects between 1993 and 1995. One was a new shopping centre called Brücken-Centre, in Ansbach, for which (current Main Board Director) Chris Lanksbury successfully competed to design. There was also a new shopping centre with a leisure component at Chemnitz, called Vita Centre, and a mixed-use retail and residential development called Alleehäuser Remscheid, near Düsseldorf.

At the same time we also started to work for German clients on projects in Hungary and the Czech Republic. The first major project to come from that process was what is now called Letnany shopping centre in the Czech Republic, on the back of which we started our Prague studio.

In 1996, I received a phone call from someone at Brune Architektur, a well-known firm of architects in Germany. Walter Brune is a well-respected architect and developer, who was in the process of selling off parts of his business in advance of his 70th birthday the following year. As Chapman Taylor had been operating in Germany from London, it was proposed that we take over their Düsseldorf studio, including their employees and workload, which we did in 1997 – I became Managing Director of the studio, which initially traded under the name Chapman Taylor Brune. By 2000, there were 64 people working at the studio, and I permanently relocated from the London studio in 2002.

Airgate, Airpark, Airview offices - Part of Airport City, near Düsseldorf International Airport

What was the German retail market like at that point?

The market was very buoyant in the late 1990s. In the early years of the new century, unfortunately, there was an economic slump, which meant that we had to bring employee numbers down to about 20 – which was painful for us. From 2000 to 2005 was a very tough period, but then business improved again – we started working on more projects in Germany, but also in Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia and elsewhere. Then, in 2008, came the banking crisis, and two years of further difficulty.

Since 2010, however, we have had several years of growth and stability, allowing us to build the business to what it is now. We are now 38-people-strong. We have an extremely good reputation in retail and mixed-use developments here in Germany, which has helped us in expanding.

City Plaza, Wuppertal won a 2016 Polis Award in the ‘Regenerated Town Centres’ category

How has demand changed over the years?

The days of monolithic, enclosed shopping centres are gone. Everyone now recognises that a successful retail development requires a mix of uses and needs to provide an all-day experience. At the moment, we have one city centre shopping centre on site, and two more about to go on site, and that’s it. There are no more ‘pure’ shopping centres on the drawing board, at least not in western Europe. Most developments we now work on are a mix of retail, leisure, office and residential uses, or they are shopping centre conversions.

How well is Chapman Taylor positioned in the German market?

While our reputation in retail-led developments is excellent, we are also expanding our portfolio in other sectors. We have just secured our second residential development, and are in ongoing discussions with residential developers to acquire more projects.

Over the last few years, we have put in a lot of effort to change the perception of us in Germany that we only work in retail-related fields. What has been very helpful is that we won the competition to design Altstadtquartier Büchel in Aachen – a mixed-use redevelopment of an entire quarter of the historic city centre. That win has lifted us onto a whole new level in terms of profile and perception in Germany – people now know that we design in several sectors, not just retail. It is important in Germany, particularly for competitions, that you are accepted by the architectural profession as serious designers, not as just commercial, without any cultural credibility.

We are recognised by our peers as serious designers, and that is crucial – developers want to be seen to be creating something which is of cultural and critical merit. The role of the architect in Germany is viewed much more seriously than perhaps it is elsewhere. Winning the 2018 National Urban Design Award for Altstadtquartier Büchel further enhanced this perception of us, bringing international recognition to a German design project.

Dreiländer Galerie in Weil-am-Rhein

Tell us about some of the studio’s key current projects?

There are number of important developments now on site. Plaza Grafinger Strasse in Munich is a major, mixed-use regeneration scheme with a large hotel, apartments, offices and a retail component, on a former industrial site within the city’s inner ring. City Plaza in Wuppertal is a retail development which has already won the 2016 Polis Award in the ‘Regenerated Town Centres’ category for its striking architecture and for how it remodels the square in front of the city’s railway station.

We also have one shopping centre, NOC Weiden, on site, as well as a whole string of shopping centre refurbishments, such as that at Krohnstieg Centre in Hamburg. A number of projects are soon to go on site, including the Dreiländer Galerie retail development at Weil-am-Rhein, near where the French, Swiss and German borders meet, which has just been awarded planning permission. Others include a new retail project, Salzach Centre in Burghausen, and Godesberger Allee, a new office development in Bonn.

In addition we are currently working on two projects for our client MPC in Belgrade, Serbia – a substantial retail and entertainment complex of approximately 46,000m² GLA on a brown-field site, and a luxury residential development in the city centre.

1: Bonn's Bundesviertel Office; 2: Flair Galerie Fürth

How do you differentiate Chapman Taylor from other designers in the German market?

It depends on which of our services are required. We are very well-regarded for our expertise in the retail sector, and for our understanding of how the development process works. All of our clients are developers or investors, and it is crucial that we understand the issues which they face from their point of view. We know what makes a project viable, and how to create a tailored design suitable for that client’s needs which is architecturally excellent while being commercially credible. That makes Chapman Taylor the right partner for anticipating and solving their problems.

We also have the benefit of a worldwide network of studios with a wide pool of skills and resources to help us add scale and value. We foster links with all of Chapman Taylor’s global studios in a number of ways, not just at management level, but for all employees. We do this in a number of ways – we attend conferences together, participate in inter-studio social events such as our football tournament, we interact via social media platforms and the company intranet and we co-operate extensively on major projects. More than ever, staff have a sense that they are working within an international group. As an employer, this sets us apart from other German architectural practices.

We have to continuously promote our abilities and knowledge, so that more and more potential clients come to know how good we are – and that process never stops.

Plaza Grafinger Strasse in Munich

What future challenges do you foresee for architects and designers in Germany?

Labour shortages are a problem – there is a need for more experienced and talented designers, as well as more workers in the building industry generally. It is important to attract the best young talent and to ensure that our employees are happy, particularly as there is a lot of poaching in this industry. One part of that is ensuring that Chapman Taylor continues to be highly respected in the architectural profession and in the wider building sector.

Another challenge is to ensure that the adoption of digital technology is smooth. We were one of the very first studios in Germany to adopt BIM in 2013. There was a generational problem initially – younger designers who knew how to use BIM but who had less experience, and more experienced designers who were reluctant to learn new technological tools from scratch. That gap has now been bridged, but, naturally, it took time.

Every new project coming to Chapman Taylor now has to be developed in BIM. We are also embracing Virtual Reality technology as a design tool, which assists us greatly in understanding how the various components of a project come together. Chapman Taylor is at the forefront of the industry in the use and promotion of digital technology in the design and development process.

Jens Siegfried (Dipl. Ing. Architekt (FH))

Director, Düsseldorf

Jens joined Chapman Taylor’s London studio in 1989 and was instrumental in developing Chapman Taylor’s expansion into the European markets during the early 1990s.  

He relocated to Germany in 1997 and is now joint Managing Director of Chapman Taylor’s Dusseldorf studio where he is responsible for the continued development and growth of the German business.

He has completed a wide range of projects and has an established track record in the design of retail and mixed-use schemes in Germany and Central and Eastern Europe. 

Areas of expertise:

Concept design / Retail / Mixed-use

Jens ist seit 1989 bei Chapman Taylor und war in den 1990er Jahren maßgeblich an der internationalen Expansion des Büros in Europa beteiligt.   

Mit der Gründung von Chapman Taylor Düsseldorf im Jahr 1997 übernahm er als Geschäftsführer die volle Verantwortung für die Weiterentwicklung und das Wachstum des deutschen Büros.

Er hat eine Vielzahl von Bauvorhaben in Deutschland, Zentral- und Osteuropa realisiert, sein Schwerpunkt liegt in der Planung von Einzelhandels – und Mixed-Use-Immobilien.

Schwerpunkte:

Konzeptentwurf /Einzelhandel/ Mixed-Use

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