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Hafencity Public Space

The open spaces of the western part of Hafencity are central components of the processes of transformation of the former harbor zone south of the historical Speicherstadt (waterhouse district) bordering on the inner city. This area has changed continuously throughout its history, in keeping with various harbor and industrial uses. The alternating ebb and high tides characterize the typical appearance of the port basin.

As protection against storm surges, new mixed used construction surfaces for central inner city functions such as residence, work, commerce, culture , and leisure will be elevated by approx three meters in the course of the development.

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© Alex Gaultier

“A system of ramps, stairways, and catwalks connect the different levels. One of the project’s most welcome protagonists is the vegetation; there are many different types and the addition will change the look of the port according to the season of the year, a note of colour and contrasts for the northern city”.

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© Alex Gaultier

The design of open space in western HafenCity:

The western end of this new part of town is blessed with a variety of urban open spaces: squares, large and small, promenades running beside and onto the water, as well as two leafy parks. Large parts of the area were landscaped by Spanish architects – Miralles Tagliabue EMBT and most of them are already finished.

Decisions about landscaping the open spaces in western HafenCity were already a done deal in 2002, after EMBT Arquitectes Associats of Barcelona won the preceding architectural competition. The interplay of land and water and the influence of the tides as a design element were imaginatively interpreted into the layout by the planners. The rather rigid structures left over from old port uses now form a contrast to lighter Mediterranean touches.

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© Alex Gaultier

Two large plazas are already in place at the inland ends of the Sandtorhafen (Magellan Terraces) and Grasbrookhafen (Marco Polo Terraces) harbor basins. The names of famous discoverers chosen reflect Hamburg’s traditional role as gateway to the world. The use of the word “terrace” describes their form: the 4,700 sq. m Magellan Terraces, completed in 2005, for example, descend step by step, amphitheater style, to the water’s edge.

The view from here takes in the future Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, the River Elbe and, of course, the Traditional Ship Harbor in Sandtorhafen. The harbor itself is part of the open space concept: historic bridges lead down to a specially made landscape of pontoons 340 m long that gently swing on the water. This 5,600 sq. m floating plaza rises and falls with the tides so that it always gives access to the water. It also offers permanent moorings for around 20 seaworthy historic watercraft.

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© Alex Gaultier

Unlike the Magellan Terraces, which have an urban look, the Marco Polo Terraces, opened in 2007, make a softer and greener impression. Grassy islands and wooden decking are an invitation to stop awhile and sit or recline. Sweet gum, swamp cypress and willow trees offer shade or shelter from the rain. The square, which covers 6,400 sq. m, has views of the River Elbe and Grasbrookhafen which will accommodate a sport boat marina from 2011. The first open spaces on Strandkai lead on from the Marco Polo Terraces. This first completed part of HafenCity that directly adjoins the River Elbe is dominated by a generous open-air flight of steps.

Smaller more private squares, promenades and steps have been laid out on Dalmannkai. On Vasco da Gama square, a neighborhood square for residents and visitors alike, a basketball court is the focus, whilst Dalmannkai is planted with flowering cherry trees. A unifying element of many of EMBT’s urban spaces here is the clinker brick external walls of flood-secure basements, whose designs often incorporate motifs from the Speicherstadt.

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© Alex Gaultier

Also already completed are the designs by BHF, a landscape architects’ firm from nearby Kiel. Their plinths and walkways lining Am Sandtorkai form the interface between HafenCity and the historic Speicherstadt – for which they were awarded a prize for being amongst the best projects of 1989-2008 by the annual publication “Architecture in Hamburg”.

But green spaces also embellish the built environment. In the west, Sandtorpark and Grasbrookpark are part of the EMBT open space concept. Sandtorpark, with mounds, trees and a grassy play area, is the unifying urban planning element for a variety of uses; the materials and ground surface design of the Magellan Terraces is continued around the open space surrounding the park and the neighboring buildings. The 850 qm Treasure Island playground at ViewPoint was opened in the summer of 2008; when Grasbrook park is ready in 2013, it will be replaced by a new and significantly larger play area there.

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© Alex Gaultier

Miralles Tagliabue EMBT:

This project develops a new public space within an existing harbour structure that has changed from a sea port into a city quarter. By regenerating and urbanizing the shores of the river Elbe in the town centre, it stands out by offering a great diversity of spaces to allow inhabitants and visitors to take advantage of the nearby waterway.

The project is divided in 15 separate parcels in a total area of 150,000 m2, with the main emphasis on integrating the existing historic heritage of the harbour into the new design development.

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© Alex Gaultier

“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.

The new profile of the land has been studied thinking of human needs, so that people can feel relaxed here. The new urban planning brings the public in a fluid movement from the new housing blocks down to the water, making for everyone’s enjoyment a new artificial landscape that is inhabited by natural elements: water and plants. People can find water and trees on every level of the public space.

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© Alex Gaultier

  • Water level (0,00): A big floating platform provides access to small boats, sport boats and ferryboats, as well as leisure areas. Special floating elements provide the presence of greenery and trees at the water level. Water is visible from the borders and through holes, to create a pond like effect.
  • Low promenade level (4,50 ): This level is mainly for pedestrians, and will host small cafes thereby creating a relaxed promenade overlooking the water. This level will be flooded only on exceptionally bad weather days, on an average of twice or three times a year.
  • Street level (7, 50): We propose pedestrian and playing areas also at street level, separating heavy traffic from pedestrians.
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© Alex Gaultier

The flooding protection strategy is to give water space rather than contain it, in order to protect the rest of the city. Two thirds of the new public spaces are floodable. It is consciously accepted that they will be flooded, and they have been designed in consequence.

Traditional harbour materials and plants were used, which are sustainable and resistance to the climate, and were chosen to last for a long time period, such as brick, betonwerkstein, and native adaptive species as oak trees, willows, eschen, grass.

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© Alex Gaultier

The Foundation of HafenCity: The Masterplan

For more than ten years, Hamburgers have been watching a city take shape. In the mainly completed west, HafenCity is already a lively place; the center is under construction and preparations for the start of building in the eastern section are under way.

HafenCity is one of the most remarkable urban redevelopment schemes on a waterfront world wide. Its trend-setting concept will see the area of Hamburg City Center enlarged by 40 percent, with the development sparking impulses not only for the existing city center, but also for the municipality with its 1.8 million inhabitants as well as the surrounding metropolitan region, home to around 5 million people. In the process Hamburg’s identity as a maritime city is being reinforced, while HafenCity simultaneously becomes a model for the development of the 21st century European city center. It is already regarded as a showcase for major international urban development projects, though its development timeframe extends to 2025.

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© Alex Gaultier

New core inner city created:

Development of HafenCity is essentially based on a Masterplan approved by the Hamburg Senate on February 29, 2000, which was developed further for the eastern section of HafenCity after wide-ranging public discussions in 2010. For the previous ten years the Masterplan, with its concept for an urban horizontal and vertical mix of uses and its flexible basic framework, served as a good point of departure for development of old port sites south of the city center. However it contained no detailed planning for the three eastern neighborhoods, Oberhafen, Baakenhafen and Elbbrücken.

Also the underlying circumstances changed during the past decade. Initially, eastern HafenCity was almost regarded as the inner-city fringe of Hamburg, yet now – partly due to new subway connections – it is very much regarded as part of the new city core. Another factor is that Hamburg is making its “leap across the Elbe” right now, with ambitious projects such as the international building exhibition (IBA) and the international garden show (igs) in 2013 south of HafenCity.

Redefinition of the Masterplan was led by HafenCity Hamburg GmbH in conjunction with the Hamburg Urban Development and Environment Ministry as well as the principal authors of the original Masterplan, Kees Christiaanse, with ASTOC. In 2010 there was intensive public discussion, with a program of more than 40 events. The reworked draft is being honed in further phases (urban design competitions, landscape competitions and architectural competitions).

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© public domain

Project Data:

Project name: Hafencity Public Space
Location: HafenCity, Hamburg, Germany
Coordinates: 53.540381, 9.993198
Type: Public space, Riverside
Site Area: 150,000 sqm
Begining year: 2002
Begining of work year: 2003
End of work year: 2005
Completion Year: 2002-2015


  • 2011 – World Architecture Festival Award – Category: Landscape – Shortlisted

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Hafencity Hamburg GmbH
Landscape Architects: Miralles Tagliabue EMBT – Passatge de la Pau, 10 bis, pral. 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Principal Designer: Benedetta Tagliabue
Project leader: Karl Unglaub (Miralles Tagliabue EMBT)
Project architects:

  • Elena Rocchi, Stefan Geenen, Elena Nedelcu, Lucía Ortiz, Jorge Carvajal, Eugenio Cirulli, Max Gunst, Massimo Chizzola, Santiago Crespi, Marco de Gregorio, Annunziata Dezio, Daniel Domingo, Jörgen Dreher, Gianfranco Grondona, Joana Guerra, Simon Junge, Irene Kasjanenko, Maximilian Kneucker, Jan Kokol, Ana Catarina Miguel, Beatriz Minguez, Amanda Mori, Gordon Moss, Fernando Mota, Adelaide Pasetti, Jakob Pitroff, Judit Rigerszki, Elena Rocchi, Jorge Rollán, Thorsten Saul, Ida Sborgia, Alex Schmidt, Bastian Schubert, Kerstin Schwindt, Roberto Sforza, Alexandra Spiegel, Lidia Tomaro, Nuno Torres, Laura Valentini, Umberto Viotto, Henrike Wettner, Waldemar Wilwer, Sabine Zaharanski


  • Gabriele Rotelli, Guile Amadeu, Nuno Almeida, Felipe Bernal, Milena Boxberger, Daniel Burston, Giovanni Cardone, Carolina Civarolo, Carla Cruz, Daniel Erfeld, Elizabeth Farkas, Ina Fertig, Rafael Galvis, Sergio Leone, Cassía de Godoy Lima, Abelardo Gomez, Enno Hergenhan, Valentin Kokudev, Michael Kührt, José Manuel LaTorre, Javier Logreira, Desirée Mann, Dirk Mayer, Sylman Mirza, Christian Molina, Kate Moore, Maria Pierres, Ligita Nicgale, Lina Parra, Catalina Pinzon, Jordi Roldán, Nuno Rodrigues, Miguel Romero, Miguel Sanchez, Jana Scheifele, Anna Stoppani, Rocco Tenca, Martina Viganò, Tobias Schmitt.

Local Landscape Architects: WES & Partner Landschaftsarchitekten
Contractor: Boymann Gruppe, V. Oertzen, Weilland + Kuck, Mâchler, Klinker + Naturstein-Kontor Emsland, GBL Gödde Beton
Engineers: Körting Ingenieure, WTM Ingenieure
Public Works: Boymann group, Glandorf
Landscape gardener: v. Oertzen, Elmshorn
Trees: v. Ehren, Hamburg
Railing: Weiland + Kuck, Hamburg
Spiral of Light: Mächler GmbH, Gaggenau
Stone: Brick and stone: Kontor Emsland, Rheda: Wiedenbrück
Concrete steps and finishing products: GBL Gödde concrete, Wadersloh
Lights: HEW, Hamburg
Text Description: © Courtesy of Miralles Tagliabue EMBT, hafencity
Images: © Alex Gaultier, Miralles Tagliabue EMBT

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