Sustainable Cities™

Hamburg: HafenCity - bringing the city to the water

From the outset, one of the major objectives for HafenCity in Hamburg, Germany, was that it should evolve its own form of social life – one which was neighbourly, but definitely metropolitan. For this to happen as much attention has been given to the city’s software as to its hardware. HafenCity has devised its own mechanism for achieving a mix of building uses, types, aesthetics, and ecological diversity by encouraging mixed groups of investors, builders, designers and residents to collaborate in joint ventures for the sake of mutual interest. HafenCity has insisted on design quality as equal and not secondary to cost as a major parameter for competitive tender.

Dalmannkai promenaden. Foto: Daniel Barthmann, venligst udlånt af HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

The initial vision to transform Hamburg's harbour into an urban extension of the inner-city began in the early 1990s. At this time, the Elbe's south bank formed an active part of the port, but the north bank was relatively underused due to its inability to support container ships. The city proceeded with its plans discreetly over the next decade such as not to raise land costs too quickly. HafenCity Hamburg GmbH was formed as a single organizing body, fully financed by the city of Hamburg but functioning as an independent company which would manage and facilitate the development.

In 2000, the winning masterplan by Kees Christiaanse / ASTOC was selected based on its clear vision, its compact and fine-grained urban structure, and not least its ability to support an iterative process which could combine many actors and events within HafenCity's 25 year period of evolution. It is this last point which makes HafenCity a unique example of sustainable urban development. In their report 'quality management for urban development', Gehl Architects make case study analyses of HafenCity, Vastra Hamnen and Vauban. Highlighted as a key attribute to explain the success of these three cities is; 'the will to see urban development as a learning process.'

 The southern end of Dalmannkai. Photo by ELBE&FLUT, courtesy of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

When a developer wants to purchase and develop land in HafenCity, they must compete not only with respect to cost but with respect to the quality and creativity of their proposal. A developer must articulate their brief, conduct an architectural competition and, together with the selected architect, submit a scheme to HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, drawn to the level which would traditionally be needed to gain local planning approval. HafenCity Hamburg GmbH then judge the scheme relative to their own set of sustainability standards which include, energy performance, benefit to public amenity, health and comfort, mix of use, and ease and efficiency of building maintenance over time.

Teams of more than one developer and more than one building function are often present in the same urban block. One block combines an office for Greenpeace, private apartments and a design studio. Another block combines an elementary school with an apartment building and the developer is responsible for school maintenance for the first 25 years.

HafenCity is also witness to a new developer type; the joint building venture. This involves a cooperative of future residents who purchase land and procure the design and construction of their own building whilst HafenCity facilitates the process. Often joint building ventures are able to realize high-quality living space at prices that are well below market rates.

'In recent years, urban development projects have almost without exception been based on a vision of diversity, density, user-participation and sustainability. Despite the words being the same, the results are far from the same. This can, in part, be explained by the different use of steering documents and processes.' Report by Gehl Architects; 'Kvalitetsstyring i byudvikling; Undersøgelse af styringsdokumenter, organisation og processer i HafenCity, Vastra Hamnen og Vauban'.

Unique urban structure derived from flood protection strategy

Flood protection for HafenCity is provided by elevating the ground level by 7.5 - 8m above water level. This difference in level between the development plots and the water surface is taken up by paved embankments, steps, and retaining walls. Inland-facing ground floor parking garages take advantage of the resultant extra building volume. The level difference is also exploited to differentiate private from public domains. Intimate inner courtyards within residential blocks are raised at a level above the public promenades which run along the quaysides. Views into the courtyards are blocked from the public domain which encourages close-knit community relationships within the block itself by allotting residents with their own shared, private space

Social entrepreneurship

Creativity, as a development criterion has already given rise to a high level of social entrepreneurship. Residents have a founded Störtebeker e.V. sports club, and Kunstcompagnie e.V. arts club and parent's groups have organized their own playhouse with the support of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH and local sponsors from the district. Some locals organize flea markets, others set-up websites for local residents and one such portal has evolved into a printed monthly paper.


Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014