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30 August 2018 Comments (0) Architecture

How Hamburg builds HafenCity, the largest urban construction site in Europe

A pioneer of eco-neighbourhoods, Hamburg has explored innovative ways to finance a large urban regeneration project, HafenCity. A phenomenal site of 157 hectares made by the most renowned architects.

Elegant and cold, Hamburg has always been a city of tradition. And through its architecture, the Hanseatic city has always taken pride in its aversion to verticality. But a few years ago, the city-State, emblematic of the Hanseatic League, this association of trading cities in Northern Europe around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, has decided to take the plunge by redeploying the banks of the port. The objective: to make a city in the city as well as a new living environment for the inhabitants.

Hamburg is first of all its port. It is disproportionate – it is the third largest port in Europe – and has shaped the city. The mindset first of all, because like all port cities, Hamburg is open to the world. Its economy as well: thanks to its port, Hamburg has long been a very prosperous city. And now its architecture, because for nearly ten years, a forest of cranes have been sketching the contours of a neighbourhood out of the ordinary, HafenCity, located at the edge of the Elbe river. Architects from around the world have made the old docks’ neighbourhood their new playing field. HafenCity is home to elegant buildings signed by David Chipperfield, Richard Meier, Shigeru Ban… It is also here that lies the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, the staggering construction inaugurated last year and the new temple of music.

HafenCity is the largest urban project in Europe: 157 hectares in the city centre, just 800 metres from the town hall. One of the most promising as well: a really dense city, mixing housing, shops, offices, culture, and proximity services around generous public spaces, meeting the challenge of a sustainable building with high environmental quality. It is the incarnation of the city’s goal of becoming “a city on water, green, social and attractive”. One of the most ambitious goals: increase the size of the city centre by 40% and double its population, in order to preserve the attractiveness of Hamburg compared with the adjacent ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Le Havre.

Attract the population in the centre

“In reopening the city towards the Elbe, of which she has long been separated because of the port, HafenCity will make the population return to the centre and regenerate, by contagion, the historical part”, explains Jürgen Bruns-Berenteig, CEO of HafenCity GmbH. HafenCity, on lands elevated by two to three metres in order to escape floods, is expected to accommodate, by 2020, some 12,000 new inhabitants and 40,000 jobs along its 10 kilometres of quays, landscaped as walkways.

But the neighbourhood’s innovation doesn’t only concern bricks: HafenCity GmbH has set up an original way to finance the city, one that is quite impervious to the financial crisis and speculation. First, the tenders are not looking to get the best price for each parcel, but to have the best ideas emerge, for a price fixed in advance. Above all, the lands are only sold to investors at the end of a one-year probation period, during which they must complete their project, organise a mandatory architectural competition for the design of the buildings and obtain all permits. With this pressure, the developer encourages investors to reserve the ground floor for public use – shops, services, culture – so the streets are lively. And have great human potential.

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