Among the many urban development projects taking advantage of the presence of a river or coastline, the city of Hamburg’s initiative – HafenCity (2000 – 2025) – deserves special attention. As the largest urban construction site in continental Europe, Hamburg envisions itself as the development model for European cities in the 21st century. By reusing more than a hundred hectares of port and industrial zone space, this project will increase the city-centre perimeter by almost 50%. The choice for public management of the public spaces and facilities in the HafenCity district was enabled by the sale of most of the land involved in the project. This sale generated € 2 billion in public funds and will ultimately secure approximately € 7 billion in private investment. The waterways surrounding the Elba Islands, which comprise the HafenCity, accounts for 30 hectares or more than a third of the total surface area impacted by this project.
Recognized in 2011 as the « European Green Capital, » Hamburg is working hard to meet the multiple demands of a sustainable development approach to HafenCity. In order to respond to the need to protect against the risk of flooding, all roads and building sites were elevated by 8 meters through the construction of artificial terps. Other public spaces of Hafencity, however, remain only 4 to 5 meters above water level. Thus the views from and use of the district are highly marked by the river. The Elba is not only seen as a threat, but also as a resource whose water can be harnessed to heat and cool buildings. Energy concerns are a focus of multiple initiatives in the district, including the introduction of small windmills throughout the area. The reduction of the CO2 emissions garnered through Hafencity interventions doubles the previous target that had been established for Hamburg to achieve by 2020 (- 20%).
A large floating dock that can accommodate thirty traditional boats, together with the nearby international maritime museum, serve to recall the rich history of this Hanseatic city. They are among the development initiatives that cultivate the relationship between the river and the sea. The floating dock is currently dedicated exclusively to use by barques. It will soon incorporate ferry access as well, becoming integrated into the transportation network that connects the waterways with more than ten kilometers of walking paths along the river banks, public spaces and bridges that cyclists can also make use of on site (70% of the lines that will eventually service this vast district, which includes a public transportation system with a subway).
The imposing Elbphilarmonie, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, is constructed rising out of an old harbor warehouse, which the architects hollowed out to accommodate an immense parking facility. Above the warehouse-base, the building consists of concert halls perched atop a public plaza, which offers a unique view of this city of 4 million people from a height of 37 meters. With their choice the promoters of the design competition emphasized the quality of the Herzog & de Meuron concept for exploiting the use of existing built-structures. Additionally, a type of floating habitat, called “Water Houses”, has been developed that makes uses of river water as a source of energy for heating and cooling. This is a model project in the same way that « Hybrid Houses » was designed as a modular system that can be re-arranged in diverse manners that adapt to the needs of inhabitants.
History is reflected in the planning of this vast recycled area of the city that will combine homes, stores, offices, cultural centers, a university, tourist service stations, corporate headquarters and international trade facilities. Eventually, HafenCity will include a site designed to recall the fact that the now defunct Hanover Train Station participated in the deportation of thousands of Jews and Roma during World War II. This monument to the past among so much new development, is a sure sign that we are witnessing historic renewal along the banks of the Elbe.
(Translated from French by Stephen Mosblech)