Fine-grained and Alive: HafenCity's First Neighborhood

Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai in northwest HafenCity was the first quarter to be completed

The aerial photography shows the Am Sandtorkai / Dalmannkai quarter

The architecture reflects the variety of the neighborhood: on Dalmannkai alone, the 15 buildings were planned by 27 builder-developers and 26 architects' offices (© ELBE&FLUT) Start slideshow

Still in very good shape at 150 years old: the opening of Sandtorhafen, the city’s first artificially created harbor basin, on August 11, 1866, marked the beginning of the modern Port of Hamburg. However, break-bulk cargo belongs to yesteryear here and today a vibrant waterside neighborhood forms the centerpiece of HafenCity’s first completed quarter. Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai was finished in spring 2009, following six years of construction. Today, the adjacent pontoons of the Traditional Ship Harbor form a floating plaza providing moorings for up to 30 historic vessels and used by residents, visitors and people working locally for relaxation or a stroll.

To the north of the harbor is Sandtorkai, bordering the listed Speicherstadt on its other side. To the south are Dalmannkai promontory and Grasbrookhafen harbor. The views from the eight buildings on Sandtorkai and the 15 buildings on Dalmannkai encompass the city center, as well as the River Elbe.

Open, multidimensional topography 

All the urban space extends mainly over two levels. All buildings and roads are built on artificially raised, flood-protected bases at around 8 m above sea level, but embankment promenades remain at 4–5.5 m above sea level. The difference in height is particularly noticeable to the north of Sandtorkai. There unusually, in consideration of the adjacent Speicherstadt, the road (Am Sandtorkai) lies at the low level of the Speicherstadt, and the newly built basement foundations on the other side resemble a wall. 

The pontoons in the Traditional Ship Harbor effectively form a third level on the water, which rises and falls twice daily with the tide by more than 3 m, The Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall plaza adds a fourth level: at a height of 37 m, this public space offers spectacular views of HafenCity and the Elbe. Right in front of it, the new Mahatma Gandhi bridge, pened in January 2016 and linking Sand-torkai and Am Kaiserkai, offers pedestrians a 5 m-wide sidewalk. There is still plenty of width in the 8.5 m-wide street area for vehicles to stop briefly to pick up or drop off concertgoers without holding up the traffic flow. At the same time the rebuilt bridge is a visible enhancement to the walkway running between Landungs-brücken and HafenCity.

Multidimensional typical topography continues on the Magellan and Marco Polo Terraces, the largest squares in the locality and in the whole of HafenCity: like an amphitheater, the 5,600 sqm of the Magellan Terraces descend in steps to the water. The 7,800 sqm Marco Polo Ter-races with their grass islands and wooden decking invite passersby to take a break under the trees. Vasco da Gama Plaza, a smaller neighborhood square nearby, also offers a basketball court. 

While almost all plazas and promenades throughout western HafenCity were planned by EMBT of Barcelona, landscaping of basements and prome-nades on Sandtorkai was designed by BHF Landschaftsarchitekten (Kiel). The architecture itself reflects the variety in the quarter: on Dalmannkai alone, the 15 buildings were realized by 27 developers and 26 firms of architects, to ensure adequate diversity.

A variety of lifestyles side by side

Lifestyles of residents are as disparate as the architecture: around 1,000 peo-ple live and work in the quarter. Young working singles and families live side by side with older couples or seniors whose children have left home. They take part in sport and cultural clubs and mix socially through associations such as HafenCity Netzwerk e.V. This socially differentiated structure is also the result of a call for expressions of interest procedure: as of 2003, sites for housing no longer go to the highest bidder. Instead the developer with the best use concept is given an exclusive option on the property at a previously agreed price. This means that many rental or owned apartments are affordable for midincome earners, while some are in the luxury segment. Much more reasonably priced living accommodation was realized through building cooperatives and three joint building ventures
As well as the residents, employees of the approximately 50 businesses also influence the quarter’s atmosphere. Most are modern services businesses in the media and logistics sectors. Residents, office workers and visitors encounter each other continually, for example on the ground floors of almost all neighborhood buildings, in which a great variety of eateries, retailers and cultural uses offer a wide choice. Shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries and bars are clustered in almost 6,500 sqm of ground floor space.  

It was here for the first time that public amenities were successfully integrat-ed into ground floors on a larger scale within the framework of a major project. The condition in sale contracts and zoning plans requiring 5 m ceilings throughout ground floors of buildings here, the reduced prices for ground floor space and the developer’s obligation to seek corresponding users, paved the way for a vitality that the completed Elbphilharmonie will further enhance. Of course the principle of a dense mix of uses also presents challenges which demand innovative solutions. To safeguard areas of privacy for residents, building ensembles on southern Dalmannkai are grouped around internal courtyards opening toward the south, allowing unobstructed views of Grasbrookhafen harbor and the river, but which are difficult to see into from the lower-lying promenade. It is not incongruous that the private and public exist side by side in Am Sandtorpark/Dalmannkai – quite the contrary: their coexistence is a definite sign of quality, in this neighbor-hood and the whole of HafenCity.

Neighborhood profile

  • Area 10.9 hectares
    Total GFA: 261,000 sqm
  • Jobs and commercial uses
    Jobs: approx. 2,700
    Uses: corporate, offices, retail, catering
  • Homes
    746 (plus 44 in the  Elbphilharmonie)
  • Special institutions
    Traditional Ship Harbor
  • Development timeframe
    2003 to 2009