Compact Urban Community

Compact Urban Community

Project: Masterplan HafenCity, Hamburg, Germany
Architects: ASTOC Architects and Planners, Cologne, Germany


Hamburg’s HafenCity currently represents Europe’s largest inner city development project. The new urban district, with a total area of around 150 hectares, is surrounded by river and canal channels on all sides. By the middle of the 2020s, it is envisaged to provide a new residential space for up to 12,000 people, as well as create 40,000 new jobs.

At the beginning of the 1990s, it became clear that the docks, then almost 100 years old, were unsuitable for handling large modern ships. As a result, the container terminal was relocated to the Old Elbe Tunnel. Extension of port facilities focused on increasing capacity in the western part of the city. The newly defunct area’s prime inner city location meant that a unique opportunity for new urban planning had opened up. Following an urban master planning competition, the development concept together with the master plan for the conversion of the edge of the port district and extension of the inner city of Hamburg to this location was published in 2000.

A total of 11 district sectors as outlined in the original master plan are to be successively realised from west to east and from north to south. The Sandtorkai is the first district to be realised, consisting of five residential and three office buildings, the Tall Ship Harbor and a promenade below the cantilevered buildings. The Kaiserkai is the second realised district sector, located on the headland between the Sandtorhafen and the Grasbrookhafen.

What makes this district sector special is its urban density, diverse architecture, the promenades and squares by the water, as well as the Elbphilharmonie at the Kaispeicher. At the end of the Sandtordock lies the district sector of Am Sandtorpark/Grasbrook which is characterised by mixed-use developments that include large office buildings, residential buildings and a school, all grouped around leafy Sandtorpark. The neighbouring overseas district sector at the Magdeburg Port is being developed along the overseas boulevard which traverses the entire length of the sector from north to south. The 14 buildings lining the boulevard house retail businesses and restaurants, both on the first and second floors.

The northern part is dedicated to apartments, the southern part to offices. A cruise terminal, a hotel, the Waterfront Towers, the Science Centre and the new metro line U4 are some of the main attractions of this sector. HafenCity is becoming a lively urban quarter with apartments, shops, parks, promenades, offices, nursery schools and recreational as well as tourism facilities. It opens up towards the Speicherstadt, allowing for excellent inter-linkages between the old and the new city, and offering attractive new living spaces by the inner harbour and the Elbe River.

The architects firmly believe that good procedural support has more benefits to offer than the conventional practice of simply adhering to a ‘design manual’. Architectural knowledge enables us to anticipate and positively shape the consequences of urban planning interventions for the architecture that they involve. The first and most important factor for gauging potential future building activity is the question of access. This is where design comes in.

In the said project, it has turned the structures that ran parallel to the Elbe River by 90 degrees. The middle part, the overseas quarter, hence does not become a continuation of the Speicherstadt, but opens up HafenCity towards the Elbe River and the inner city. The overseas quarter has been envisaged as the new centre of HafenCity, where retail business is focused and which has great urban charisma due to the nearby Magdeburg Port, almost placing it in direct competition with the sophisticated Binnenalster.

In order to create discretely independent urban quarters, the urban magnets were not located around the centre but in an outer and inner triangle, precisely placing buildings that would be able to shape the different quarters with their dedicated functions.

Critics have remarked that HafenCity caters mainly to higher income tenants and property buyers. So the question may be asked whether HafenCity is becoming a victim of its own success. For the current period, however, this is especially painful considering the fact that home ownership and social housing subsidies have been scrapped. What may come as a consolation to some is that the City of Hamburg decided to provide special support to building groups, for instance, to counter this trend.

Rented apartments continue to prevail in the new eastern quarters and the City of Hamburg has started to rethink its policy of constantly fetching maximum prices for the plots; in certain cases allowing ecological aspects to have a more urgent say than economic ones. Hamburg’s inner city lies on the banks of the Alster River.

HafenCity has the potential to extend the city centre and to connect the inner city with the Elbe River. Therefore, urban development’s most urgent task would be to transcend all the egoisms that exist, and to design and develop a sustainable and coherent vision which, for all its positive qualities, avoids the folly of becoming a stale corset.

Fact File

Client: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Design team: ASTOC Architects and Planners in collaboration with KCAP Architects & Planners, Rotterdam and Hamburgplan AG, Hamburg

Overall area: 157 hectares (ha) on former port and industrial land

Land area: 127 ha Expansion of Hamburg’s city area by 40 per cent Gross floor area above ground (GFA): new building ca. 2.32 million sq m6,000 to 7,000 homes for around 14,000 residents and up to 45,000 jobs to be created (approx. 35,000 desk jobs)10.5 km new waterside promenade/3.1 km riverfront along the Elbe. Around 28 ha public parks, squares and promenades

Cost of project: Investment volume: private investment – around € 8.5 billion; public investment – € 2.4 billion, mostly financed from special assets fund sales of plots in HafenCity (around € 1.5 billion)

Year of completion: 2030


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