Our journey around the 10 best stores in the world stops off in Munich, where Georgia Barretta-Whiteley marvels at an enormous momument to motoring.
BMW Welt, Am Olympiapark 1, 80809 Munich, Germany
Even in a country as dedicated as this to the worship of the engine, rarely has so virtuous a form been committed to so mortal a function.
"Our dealers are like local churches, while BMW Welt is St. Peter's Cathedral," said Michael Ganal, BMW's director of marketing.
So let’s tread lightly, this is sacred ground.
Rather than picking up a new car at a local dealership, drivers can upgrade their purchasing experience and make the pilgrimage here to receive their vehicle, finding it haloed in a ‘gallery of driving pleasure’, bathed in a spotlight and rotating on a turntable.
Of course, before the car's christening, and after the frothy cappuccino, owners are given the opportunity to experience the car’s special driving features by computer simulation.
They then proceed down a grand staircase to a platform lined with BMW cars.
The building itself, a luxury retail showroom, could be a monument to excess. Yet it makes sense that an auto company like BMW would underwrite the €200 million palace with this stunning level of structural refinement, and (oh-so-on-brand) knack for formal development and technological elegance.
Accidently on-purpose misplacing a whole afternoon strolling through it, the exhibits explore the features in each innovative gesture of each premium vehicle. Dealers, trained as high priests in the technologies that underpin the BMW model, provide information on the likes of ‘EfficientDynamics’ - innovation that’s designed to reduce fuel consumption and increase driving pleasure. And ‘ConnectedDrive’? A specially created area where a team of expert dealers provide insights into the world of intelligent networking between the driver, the vehicle and the environment.
While design architect Wolf Prix boasts that that the roof is large enough to cover Piazza San Marco in Venice, designers ‘Coop Himmelb(l)au’, have combined the bold formal language of genuine civic stature with a keen feel for context that continues throughout.
The interior is conceived as a vast public forum - at times its ceiling, alive with the ebb of natural light, evokes the shading fabric canopies that could be found above traditional bazaars in the Middle East. Shops selling all conceivable accessories and literature, little pieces of the brand perfectly tuned to the captive audience as momentos of Welt, line the hall on both sides, while spacious curved walkways crisscross the space overhead. Organised in a slight arc, the main hall reveals itself only gradually, emphasising a sense of mystery.
What unites these various experiences is the flow of cars and beings through the space. With a dynamic energy, that latter spill in from entrances on two floors. New buyers cruise down the ramp in their glistening cars, while browsers gaze at them from the elevated bridges. These streams form an intricate pattern, linking man and machine, inside and out.
As for me, leaving on foot, head bowed as if in supplication, I can’t help but make a slight dip of the knee and a glance duly upwards at that steel underbelly.
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