City of the Future

Waterfront Living and Working: Hamburg's HafenCity

Elbphilharmonie, Dalmannkai
Foto: Herzog & DeMeuron; Bildquelle: HafenCity Hamburg GmbHIt all comes down to containers. This universal transport box, now ubiquitous in international trade, has changed the face of ports all over the world.

Warehouses for piece goods stand empty, and the old port basins have become far too small for modern 400 m long ships. Within just two decades, docklands around the world degenerated into bleak expanses of urban decay, a backdrop for crime and a problem for the city planners.

Cities like London, Rotterdam, Barcelona and Copenhagen have been trailblazers in dockland regeneration – closely followed by Hamburg over the past few years. The city has seized the opportunity to transform its dilapidated dockland into an exciting new urban district. Styling itself 'HafenCity', Hamburg's flagship project for the 21st century is modelled for the public to admire at a visitor centre situated in a former industrial boiler house, providing in-depth information on one of Europe's most ambitious urban development programmes.

High leisure value – high quality of life

Unilever's German headquarters and Marco Polo Tower at Strandkai
llustration: Behnisch Architekten; source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbHThe imposing brick-built bulwarks of the historic Speicherstadt warehouse district, dating back to the 19th century and lying immediately to the south of Hamburg city, were snapped up by modern-day businesses years ago. The task now is to develop the remaining dock areas and turn them into a useful district of the city. Quite a challenge – for all told, the port basins cover an area almost as large as Hamburg's historic city centre. The architects' state-of-the-art 3D scale models map out an enticing future – they show people taking a pleasant stroll along the quays, now transformed into attractive promenades, and enjoying a drink in charming street cafés. Waterfront living and working is the motto, summing up the high leisure value and high quality of life which this former dockland will have to offer. According to the master plan by architects ASTOC/hamburgplan, the vision is to create an attractive and sustainable city with 40,000 high-quality jobs and 6000 dwellings, with arts institutions, a cruiser terminal, port facilities for traditional vessels, and marinas.

At the western end, which includes Sandtorhafen and Grasbrookhafen, initial results can already be seen. Planning regulations have imposed stringent requirements governing the unified appearance of the dwellings here. But there is no room for monotony, for the designs were produced by a variety of architects and were all winning entries in selection competitions. Chief Planning Director Jörn Walter is proud of the project's high architectural quality compared with similar development projects elsewhere.

The Elbphilharmonie as the emblem

Überseequartier Science Center 1; Illustration: OMA; source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbHThe emblem of the new urban district will be the Elbphilharmonie, a spectacular structure designed by Switzerland's star architects Herzog & de Meuron and due to open in 2010. They are building – quite literally – on Kaispeicher A, a brick warehouse structure that dates back to the 1960s. Once completed, the Elbphilharmonie will appear to float above its distinctive pedestal like a glassy sea of waves, symbolising Hamburg's maritime heritage, some 100 metres high. Even during the planning stage, this was an international lighthouse project; costing € 240 million, the complex will ultimately include not only the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall but also a hotel and apartments, a conference centre and restaurants.

Model of the 'Überseequartier'; Photo: Christoph Gebler; source: Groß & Partner GmbHLarge office buildings will be situated to the east of the two port basins, and from 2009, the Cruise Center will welcome the first ocean-going liners, spilling out thousands of tourists ready to sample the delights of dry land. Close by, there will be the "Überseequartier", currently under construction, an exclusive office and business centre with high-end retail outlets and individual buildings designed by top international architects. And where the pedestrian zone reaches the Elbe, another architectural delight is in store. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has now unveiled his design for a Science Center. He plans to heap container-like cubes together to form a massive vertical ring which is visible in outline from some distance away.

Museums and university

View of Kaispeicher B from Museumsbrücke
Photo: ELBE&FLUT; source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbHThe refurbishment of the magnificent Kaispeicher B is now complete and will house the new International Maritime Museum of Hamburg. Architects Markovic Ronai Lütjen Voss have converted this neo-Gothic bastion, with its ten warehousing areas, into space for the world's largest private collection of shipping and maritime heritage. A stone's throw away, the "Prototype" veteran car collection houses a treasure trove of German engineering. The design for the creative refurbishment of the warehouse, which is a listed building, was produced by architects Dinse Feest Zurl. On the waterfront here, architects Code Unique from Dresden have designed HafenCity Universität für Baukunst und Metropolenentwicklung (a university specialising in architecture and regional development), which came into being after the merger of three Hamburg-based architecture faculties. However, critics claim that the location of the university is too far away from students' usual stamping grounds and affordable accommodation. But city planners take the view that a good economic and social mix guarantees a vibrant urban life and are counting on students' creative input.

The real challenge that the Elbe presents is flooding: for over recent decades, the peak levels recorded after heavy storms have steadily crept up. The HafenCity concept takes account of this risk, with elevated thoroughfares, raised bridges, dykes and barriers. As part of these elaborate flood protection measures, existing buildings are being encircled with raised areas, with groundwater drainage built in. It is likely to be another two decades before all 155 hectares of Hamburg's HafenCity are fully developed to their eastern extent as far as the Elbe bridges. The next challenge is to extend beyond the Elbe into the southern district and towards Wilhelmsburg – a challenge which is already being seized on with enthusiasm with the International Building Exhibition (IBA). There's no doubt about it: Hamburg is determined to exploit its full potential for sustainable urban development.
Falk Jaeger
is an architectural historian and critic in Berlin

Translation: Hillary Crowe
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V, Online Editorial Team
May 2008

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