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 six years of construction. Clustered around the centrally located Sandtorhafen harbor basin, it owes its charm to the coexistence of intimate neighborhood with urbanity on the waterfront. The pontoons of its Traditional Ship Harbor form a floating plaza which offers moorings for up to 30 historic vessels and is 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 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 mainly extend 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 a low level, and the newly built 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 3 m. Yet another level, the fourth, will be formed by the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall on Dalmannkai point when it opens in 2017: its publicly accessible plaza, at a height of 37 m, has spectacular views of HafenCity and the Elbe. Incidentally: through to its opening, the Elbphilharmonie will be the neighborhood’s only building still under construction.

After just under a year of building works, Mahatma Gandhi bridge, which links the Sandtorkai and Am Kaiserkai roads, was largely reopened to pedestrians in June 2015. The new bascule bridge provides a 5 m wide sidewalk for pedestrians, alongside an 8.5 m road width. This allows vehicles ample 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 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 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 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 1,500 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 many 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 services businesses in the media and logistics sectors. Residents, office workers and visitors regularly meet in the shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries and bars occupying the almost 6,500 sqm of ground floor space divided among most buildings.

It was in this neighborhood. Sandtorkai/ Dalmannkai that a major project first succeeded in integrating public amenities into ground floors on a larger scale. The condition in sale contracts and zoning plans requiring 5 m ceilings in ground floors, the reduced prices for ground floor space and the investor’s obligation to seek corresponding users paved the way for a growing vitality that will flourish even more after completion of the Elbphilharmonie. The diversity of caterers and retailers that have already set up shop in the quarter, 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