Fine-grained and alive

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

It is finished! On January 11, 2017 the Elbphilharmonie concert hall was officially opened in the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the federal president of Germany and Hamburg’s first mayor. After almost ten years of construction, its wave-crested glass construction of up to 110 m in height crowns the painstakingly preserved cubage and imposing façade of what was once Warehouse A, designed by architect Werner Kallmorgen. The successful creation of a globally unique architectonic hybrid, consisting of the concert house, a hotel with 244 rooms, 45 apartments and a parking garage for around 500 vehicles, visually blends contemporary building skill with the port’s tradition and its historic architecture, connecting it with the new identity of Hafen-City as a whole. The new district acts as a metaphorical resonance chamber for the new architectural icon. This can be understood best perhaps on the freely accessible plaza of the Elbphilharmonie between the original building and its new glass crown.  This is much more than just a huge space; it is the atmospheric interface between the actual uses of the building and the public urban environment – with a fantastic panoramic view from a height of 37 m over the whole city, the port and HafenCity. 

At the foot of the building begins Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai quarter, an animated urban neighborhood on the waterfront. In spring 2009, this became HafenCity’s first completed neighborhood, opened after just six years of construction. Around Sandtorhafen, Hamburg’s oldest artificial harbor basin dating from 1866,  the pontoons of today’s Traditional Ship Harbor form a floating plaza providing moorings for up to 30 historic vessels, where residents, visitors and people working locally can relax or 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. 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 urban spaces extend 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. While 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 plaza has added a fourth level. 

Multidimensional typical topography continues on the Magellan and Marco Polo Terraces, the largest squares in HafenCity so far: like an amphitheater, the 5,600 sqm of the Magellan Terraces descend in steps to the water. The steps of 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 1,000 people 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 Hafen-City 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 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 encounter each other continually, for example in 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 integrated into ground floors on a larger scale within the framework of a major project. The condition in sale contracts and zoning plans making 5 m ceilings mandatory throughout ground floors of buildings here, reduced prices for ground floor space and the developer’s obligation to seek suitable users, paved the way for a vitality that will flourish even more now the Elbphilharmonie is completed. 

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 neighborhood and the whole of HafenCity.


Neighborhood profile

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