Friday, April 19, 2013



HafenCity is a vast  waterfront development and urban rehabilitation project of located in Hamburg, the largest German port and the second in Europe, after Rotterdam. In addition to revitalizing the downtown and bringing urban life near the water, this project is an important attempt to carry out sustainable design, implemented in the contemporary architecture and urban design of public spaces located in the area.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hamburg grew from a secondary port to a carry a protagonist role by controlling much of the maritime traffic from the Baltic to Germany and Central Europe.
In this context a project was developed to revitalize an old pier on the River Elbe that had been affected during the war and was  abandoned by disuse and deterioration.

The HafenCity project, which began in 1999, is expected to be completed by 2020, although today it is possible access some areas that have been partially completed.

Project Area in 1944
Project Area in 2013. See location on Google Maps

The project, designed by the Dutch-German consortium  Kees Christiaanse / ASTOC in 1999, expanded the central area of ​​Hamburg in 40% and transformed this unused storage area. This renovation kept in some cases the building typology of brick warehouses, but preparing them to accomodate other purposes .

Looking to combine concepts of economic, social and environmental development, HafenCity includes mixed-use areas, such as housing for 4000 people, 45,000 offices, restaurants, a university, cultural facilities, parks and public areas. However, there has been criticiscm regarding it as elitist district, given the cost of the departments that are located in this area.

The canal area is marked by the longitudinality of the space that visually opens to the river. Our impression was that these buildings, respectively designed by architects winners of competitions, keep a human scale in relation to the pedestrians while allowing certain density in the district. The result achieved aesthetically composed yet highly efficient buildings in terms of sustainability.

It is also notable the recovery of old brick warehouses and public buildings or offices, in a fashion that was pioneered by the project of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some sculptural elements are references of the industrial past of the area.


One of the most celebrated contributions HafenCity is its public space, designed by Spanish firm EMBT, from the well remembered architect Enric Miralles and his wife Benedetta Tagliabue . The design exploits the interface between the city and the water, establishing various levels of contact and accessibility. It is noteworthy that the Elbe river floods two or three times a year, and for that reason the design should  provide security for the people and structures.

"Our intervention is dynamic and flexible. A changing landscape on a human scale, moving partially with the floods, bringing people nearer to the water and its moods."

In this regard the project of EMBT was carried out in three levels:

a) Water level:  a floating platform running longitudinally parallel to the channel that provides access to most boats while including gardening items. The zigzagging composition of this path contrasts with the marked parallelism defined by the buildings in both margins of the channel and produces  various dynamic views and sensations, a concept that is characteristic of  EMBT work.

b) Low Promenade level: Located 4.50 m above the water, it is used mostly by pedestrians to overlook the river from a safe area. The cantilevers offer coverage and a virtual channel that emphasizes directionality, while affording open views.

c) At the street level. Is located at 7.50 m, separating vehicular pedestrian traffic. It also includes playing areas and pedestrian promenades.

It is also noteworthy the  detail of the furniture, a sort of sculptural pieces that have been appropriated by the users of this space


Standing over the channel by way of a flagship, the  project is the most emblematic of the district and it was designed by the award-winning and Pritzker Prize Laureates Swiss architects  Herzog and De Meuron.

The building has been built on a former warehouse located on keel-shaped plot at one end of the pier, which has been gutted inside, leaving only the facade. Given the role that it should accommodate the building, it was impossible to keep the original layout of the warehouse and instead this impressive cultural facility is being assembled, that will include three concert halls, a hotel and luxury apartments.

The main concert hall shows an unusual arrangement of the seats, which will allow viewers to have a different listening experience and a greater proximity to the orchestra.

From the outside, what is most striking is the facade of the building, a  skin made of special double glass containing gas in between the two layers, which allows a sophisticated thermal control inside while creating a striking texture from the outside .

The project has not been without criticism, since a large number of postponements have increased its cost over 200 million euros. During our visit, we will told that the facility should be concluded in 2012, but probably its construction will be completed only in 2015. However, it is clear that despite these drawbacks, it will be one of the most emblematic landmarks of the city.


This dynamic sculptural tower of winding terraces contains luxury apartments overlooking the river, piled up to a height of 55 m. Its design, developed by Behnish Arkitekten, is based on an elaborate eco-design that had a low environmental impact during its construction and maintains an efficient control of its energy consumption.

Next to it is another building designed by the same office, this time it is a predominantly horizontal volume, the headquarters of the Unilever-Haus offices. This building presents a second skin composed of a transparent film that can provide environmental protection against the strong winds blowing in the area, Inside, light enters generously and illuminates a large multi-storied lobby, crossed by  bridges in various directions, allowing to experience an open , flexible and transparent interior. This spatial conception also favors the interaction of workers inside the building.


The scale of this large urban pilot project, its emphasis on sustainability, underpinned by a varied repertoire of high quality contemporary architecture, make HafenCity one of the biggest developments of waterfront development in Europe. Probably when it finished in the next decade it will be an important reference on sustainable urban design.


- Waterfront Development

Curious outfit of young girls in HafenCity.


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