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)

In the spring of 2009, Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai was the first neighborhood in HafenCity to be completed, after sixyears of construction. Clustered around Sandtorhafen harbor basin, it owes its charm to the coexistence of intimate neighborhood withurbanity  on the waterfront. The pontoons of its Traditional Ship Harbor form a floating plaza which not only offers moorings for up to 30 historic vessels but is also used by residents, visitors and local employees for relaxation or a stroll. To the north of the harbor is Sandtorkai, bordering the listed Speicherstadt on its other side. To the south is the 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.



The urban spaces mainly extend over two lev­els. All buildings and roads are built on artificially raised, flood-protect­ed bases at around 8m above sea level, but embankment promenades remain at 4 to 5.5m 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 a low level, and the new basement found­ations on the other side resemble a wall.

The Traditional Ship Harbor pontoons form a third level on the water,  which rises and falls twice daily with the tide by more than 3m. Yet another level – the fourth – will be formed by the Elb­philharmonie Concert Hall on Dal­mannkai point from 2017: its publicly accessible plaza, at a height of 37m, has spectacular views of HafenCity and the Elbe. Until its opening, the Elb­philharmonie will be the neighborhood’s only building still under construction.

The new Mahatma Gandhi bridge over Sandtorhafen basin will be opened in fall 2015. . In future pedestrians will use a 5m wide sidewalk on the bridge. The width of the road (8.5m)  will mean that vehicles have adequate space to stop briefly to drop or pick up passengers, without interrupting the flow of traffic. At the same time it visibly enhances the attractions of the walkway running between Landungsbrücken and HafenCity.

Multi-dimensional 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 Terraces 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 promenades on Sandtorkai were 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.



Lifestyles of residents are as disparate as the architecture: around 1,500 people live and work in the quarter. Young working singles and fami­lies live side by side with older couples whose children have left home or seniors. They get involved in sport and cultural clubs and form networks, such as HafenCity Netzwerk e.V.

This socially differentiated structure is also the result of a calls for expressions of interest procedure: as from 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 mid-income 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 servicesbusinesses  in the media and logistics sectors. Residents, office workers and visitors regularly meet in the shops,  cafés, res­taurants, galleries and bars occupying almost 6,500 sqm of ground floor space  in most buildings.

It was in this neighborhood. Sandtorkai / Dalmannkai that a major project first suc­ceeded within the context of a major project in integrating public amenities into ground floors on a larger scale. The condition in sale contracts and zoning plans requiring 5m ceilings in ground floors, the reduced prices for ground floor space and the investor’s obligation to seek corresponding users have laid the foundations for a growing vitality that will flourish even more after completion of the Elbphilharmonie. Many caterers and retailers have already set up shop in the quarter, which, combined with the various services and cultural uses, offer plenty of choice.

Of course the principle of dense mix of uses also presents challenges which demand innovative solutions. Since residents need areas of privacy, 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 to the contrary: their coexistence is a defi­nite sign of quality, both in this neighbor­hood 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 (excl. Elbphilharmonie)
  • Special institutions
    Traditional Ship Harbor
  • Development timeframe
    2003 to 2009