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 Traditional Ship Harbor in Sandtorhafen harbor forms the heart of the Am Sandtorkai / Dalmannkai urban ensemble. A sport boat marina is planned to the south of the quarter in Grasbrookhafen basin, which is currently being remodeled (© ELBE&FLUT)

In the spring of 2009, Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai became the first neighborhood in HafenCity to be completed, after a six-year phase of construction. This neighborhood clustered around Sandtorhafen harbor basin owes its charm to the coexistence of urbanity with village-like life on the waterfront. The pontoons of the Traditional Ship Harbor form a floating plaza with moorings for up to 30 historic vessels.

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.

Open, multidimensional topography

The urban spaces extend initially 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 4–5.5m 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 provide a third level which rises and falls with the tide twice daily by more than 3m. A further level still – the fourth – will be formed by the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall on Dalmannkai point: its publicly accessible plaza, at a height of 37m, has spectacular views of HafenCity and the Elbe. Until its opening in 2017, the Elbphilharmonie will be the neighborhood’s only building still under construction.

Since June 2014, the reconstruction of Mahatma Gandhi bridge over Sandtorhafen basin has been under way. In future pedestrians will use a 5m-wide sidewalk on the western side of the bridge. The width of the road (8.5m) means 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-level topography continues on the Magellan and Marco Polo Terraces, the largest squares in the locality and in the whole of HafenCity: like an amphi-theater, 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.

Almost all plazas and promenades in this neighborhood – and the whole western end of HafenCity – were planned by EMBT of Barcelona. Basements and promenades on Sandtorkai, however, were designed by BHF Landschaftsarchitekten The architecture itself reflects the variety in the quarter: on Dalmannkai alone, 15 buildings were realized by 27 developers and 26 firms of architects, to create adequate diversity.

A variety of lifestyles side by side

Lifestyles in the immediate neighborhood 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 "empty nesters" (couples whose children have left home) and seniors. They meet up for activities in sport and cultural clubs and enlarge their networks, as they do socially through Netzwerk HafenCity 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. 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. The majority of local businesses offer modern services, primarily in the media and logistics sectors, and – as long as construction in HafenCity continues – also building services. Residents, office workers and visitors come into contact in the shops, bistros, cafés, restaurants, galleries and bars occupying almost 6,500 sqm of floor space on the ground floors of most buildings.

It was in this neighborhood that a major project succeeded for the first time in integrating public amenities into ground floors on a grand 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. Nineteen bars and restaurants and 11 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