Renzo Piano. A zeppelin in Cologne

Emerging from Cologne’s skyline is a long and sinuous glazed form, comfortably reclining on its central urban site. Photography by Paolo Rosselli. Edited by Rita Capezzuto

When commissioning Renzo Piano to design their department store in Cologne, the client Peek & Cloppenburg specified a modern but traditional building, in which wood and glass would be sympathetically expressed. The site at their disposal, in the city centre, presented a rather difficult situation: an irregular area, not far from the cathedral, but congested with surface traffic and with a motorway underpass running through it. With the exception of the late-Gothic church of St Antoniter, neither did the surrounding buildings offer any examples of quality.

Thus Renzo Piano drew his inspiration from the orangery typology, to design a light, transparent building. Broad wooden arches at intervals of 2.5 metres make up the ribcage of the complex, which is closed by glass and clamped with metal supports. The height of the building is slightly lower towards its centre, so as to create a more elegant connection with the ancient church opposite, which now faces a pedestrian square shared with the department store.

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