saai | Archive for Architecture and Engineering

Digital Collection Egon Eiermann

Merkur department store


Merkur department store

The construction of the Merkur department store in Heilbronn in 1951 marked the beginning of Egon Eiermann's work for the German department store group over a period of about ten years. The early examples, especially the Heilbronn and Reutlingen stores, reflect the fertile collaboration between the architect and the group's management under Salman Schocken. Eiermann may have faced strict planning targets set by merchandise logistics and presentation, development, technical facilities, and economic constraints, but the company for its part demonstrated open-mindedness to new architectural solutions. These buildings are characterized less by representation than by a clear building development and a restrained architectural language.

Planning for the Reutlingen store began in April 1952. The store was opened a mere eight months later, on November 20, 1952. The company's in-house construction department based in Nuremberg carried out the construction work. The store was built on the corner of Karlstrasse and Kaiserstrasse as a four-story building with staircases at each side separated from the main body of the building by a glass joint. The reinforced concrete skeleton structure with hollow-block ceilings made flexible furnishing possible across the entire floor, incorporating only two rows of supports. Bands of windows extending all around the building at a height above the shelf area give the floors light and air. The horizontal wall bands of the façade are laid in yellow brick. Attached to the rear of the building is a massive core incorporating elevators and emergency staircases. Merchandise was delivered to a goods area at the rear.

Because window cleaning was so costly, the façade was not built, as initially planned, in steel and glass with closed breast areas, even though this arrangement had previously been used and appreciated in Heilbronn. To solve the window- cleaning problem, Eiermann first suggested mobile ladders. The solution finally adopted was sixty-five centimeter wide passageways around the façade formed by projections from

the ceilings of each floor. These overhangs incorporate adjustable metal slats as sunshades, but they were so susceptible to wind that the Merkur construction department did not use them in later stores. The passageways, in contrast-used here for the first time-came to be of high importance in

Eiermann's subsequent work, and can almost be said to have become a trademark. They were first chosen for functional reasons as a solution to the problem of cleaning the windows, but it was more their design and tectonic quality that made this kind of facade design so successful. The delicate steel rods that take up the grid pattern of the internal supports, the horizontal lines of the façade, and the materiality of the structure generate a human scale and optical lightness. Despite its large mass, the building integrates gently and yet self-confidently into the intricately structured urban context.

Friederike Hobel

"Egon Eiermann 1904-1970. Architect and Designer", Ed. Annemarie Jaeggi, Hatje Cantz: Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 161

Project-specific information

Project Merkur department store
Persons involved
  • Egon Eiermann und Robert Hilgers, Architektur
Project period 1952

Object-specific information

Typology Warenhaus, department stores (buildings)

Site-specific information

Country Deutschland
City Reutlingen