HafenCity - Hamburg's Bold New Venture in Urban Living

At the south edge of Hamburg's Altstadt, we strolled across a bridge spanning the narrow channel. On the other side stood a long row of lofty, stately red brick buildings rising eight stories from the level of the water. We had found our way to the Speicherstadt, Hamburg's historic Warehouse City.


Composed of nearly identical, rather narrow, waterfront buildings, side by side, the total facade provided an aspect both charming and austere. The block and tackle pulleys jutting out at intervals and step gabled roofs were reminiscent of Amsterdam. We could easily imagine the once busy daily activity of goods unloaded from tall sailing ships onto smaller boats that plied the harbor basins, making deliveries to be hoisted up for storage and processing in these tall warehouses.


We soon learned that the historic warehouses cover 25 hectares, and are now a vital element of the new HafenCity. Where goods from all over the world were stored and processed duty free, today these buildings house museums, cafes, an amazing number of Persian and Turkish carpet import companies, and offices for businesses of all sorts.


A visit to the HafenCity InfoCenter in the Kesselhaus, the Speicherstadt's former power plant building, provided a comprehensive overview of the HafenCity Project, which includes the Speicherstadt buildings and many obsolete and abandoned port areas. The InfoCenter offered a vast model of the whole area, and an aerial map of the project (both shown below), plus much printed information, and helpful people to answer questions and provide specifics.


We learned that the City of Hamburg saw the tremendous opportunity offered by the move of the Port across the river - an additional 157 hectares of urban space had become available to be regenerated.

Thus began planning for the largest inner city development in Europe. A competition was held for the Master Plan and steps were taken by the City to acquire the land. HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, a 100% subsidiary of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Hamburg's official name), was formed to manage the project which will increase the urban area of Hamburg by 40%, include housing for 12,000 residents and employment for 45,000 workers - a place to live, work and play!

According to the Master Plan, the historic buildings of the Speicherstadt, lovingly preserved, will be juxtaposed with numerous creatively designed, sustainably built, and imaginatively adapted buildings for offices, homes, shops, cafes, a university, and several museums. Mixed use, convenient public transport, parklands, access to the Elbe, pedestrian and bicycle ways, and port views will make life and work at HafenCity ultimately urban and urbane.


A walk around showed us that substantial progress has already been made. Consumer products company, Unilever, and Der Speigel, publisher of Germany's oldest news magazine, have built stunning new corporate headquarters here. Each building was designed by a world class architectural firm and the designs incorporate many innovative green building elements.


Families have moved into the new apartments and businesses occupy the offices. On nice afternoons, the sidewalk cafes are busy, people hang out in the parks or ride bikes, walk dogs, push prams. During the week, workers hurry to their offices or dash out to grab lunch at the cafes.


Out on a prominent river front point, the shining glass wave soaring above the massive brick walls of the Kaispeicher A warehouse at the water's edge caught our eyes. This amazing building will become the Elbephilharmonie Concert Hall, soon to be the new home of Hamburg's renowned NDR Symphony Orchestra. Look out, Sydney!


Sustainability principles pervade the planning, design, and implementation of every aspect of the whole quarter and were a required attribute of each building! Many earned the Gold EcoLabel based on their designs, but this award will only be permanently given if the completed building performs as the designers pledged.

On later visits to the Info Center, we learned that the InfoCenter enjoys visits from tour groups and delegations from far and wide wanting to learn more about this pioneering development.

We found ourselves returning to HafenCity several times, attempting to understand the many aspects of this ground breaking development. We were impressed by the care being taken to make this a viable and sustainable development and hope to return in a couple of years to check on their progress.

For more information on HafenCity, click on any of the following links (open in new window)

HafenCity Hamburg General Information

HafenCity Osaka 9 Sustainability Pavillion

HafenCity Facts and Figures

A City for the 21st Century - Concepts

The Challenge of Making HafenCity Feel Neighborly - Der Spiegel, 8/26/2010

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

Click here to return to our 'Summer 2011 - Joys of Urban Living' page