A city of plazas, parks and promenades

HafenCity’s urban spaces on and beside the water function as a unifying urban planning theme and as distinctive elements of the cityscape in their own right

Photo shows the Marco Polo Terraces

Magellan Terraces in summer (© ELBE&FLUT) Start slideshow

A densely built cityscape needs flexible public open spaces of particularly high quality. The significance of urban open space for HafenCity is clear from just a few key figures: 25 percent of its land area – as much as 28 ha – will be made up of public open spaces. These are places of relaxation, encounter, for play or physical exercise and all of them are located by water. At the same time, 10.5 km of shoreline is developing. In addition to public open spaces, which are closely interlocked and well connected to one another, private open spaces accessible to the public account for a further 13 percent. Only seven percent of all open space is not publicly accessible. Additional open space that cannot be accounted for in figures is of course the “blue” expanse of the Elbe and the harbor basins, which are oases of fresh air and visual refreshment.

Mediterranean airiness with austere port influences

Architectural firm EMBT Arquitectes Associats designed most of the largely completed urban spaces in the western section of HafenCity, an elaborate and esthetic interplay between water and land; severe forms typical of a port contrast with airier Mediterranean influences. Two large terraced squares were created at the heads of the Sandtorhafen and Grasbrookhafen harbor basins. The Magellan Terraces (5,600 sqm), completed in 2005, are stepped down to the water on several levels, resembling an amphitheater. With its rather hard surfaces left over from the port era and unusual architecture, this plaza has a strong urban (maritime) character with multiple functions. 

From the terraces, the gaze sweeps across to the Traditional Ship Harbor in Sandtorhafen, opened in 2008; 5,800 sqm of floating pontoons rise and fall with the tide, providing permanent moorings for up to 30 historic watercraft. The Marco Polo Terraces (7,800 sqm), opened in 2007, break down into smaller elements – grass islands, wooden decks and trees. They appear more sheltered, green and soft. Promenades along the quays link these varied urban spaces. 

South of the Marco Polo Terraces, a stroll leads to the Elbterrassen steps, where cruise ship fans congregate, after passing through Grosser Grasbrook and the publicly accessible mall in Unilever House. Vasco da Gama plaza, also adjoining a promenade, is a popular local meeting place with outside eating areas and space for basketball.

Spacious green spaces and play areas 

In the northwest, Sandtorpark, covering around 6,000 sqm, with its mounds, trees and a grassy play area designed for a variety of uses, is the urban planning element unifying the materials and ground surface design used for the Magellan Terraces with those around the open space surrounding the park. The green area, opened in April 2011, is also intensively used by children from the neighboring Katharinen school. Grasbrookpark, at the interface with Strandkai neighborhood, was inaugurated in summer 2013. With a play ship as its centerpiece, this leafy play park is popular as a meeting place well beyond HafenCity limits.

The lively heart of HafenCity

Central HafenCity with Überseequartier and the surroundings of Magdeburger Hafen was designed by the renowned Catalan landscape architect Beth Galí and her firm BB + GG Arquitectes (Barcelona). The vitality of the area around Magdeburger Hafen is increasingly melding HafenCity and the existing city center together. After all, the Inner Alster is only 900 m away and thus just a few minutes’ walk from Magdeburger Hafen, interconnected by the central Domplatz axis. Inside HafenCity, this links Überseequartier, Elbtorquartier and Brooktorquartier, for instance via the historic Busanbrücke bridge, reopened at the end of 2010. Along Osakaallee, an embankment promenade up to 12 m wide borders the western side of Magdeburger Hafen. 

Ramps, steps and clumps of green shrubs lead down from the new road level onto the historic quay level. Nestled in the difference in elevation is the Osaka 9 sustainability pavilion; the ecological aspects of HafenCity have been exhibited here since 2011. 

At the head of Magdeburger Hafen is the most important entrance to central HafenCity, Dar es Salaam square, an attractive place that faces south to the harbor basin, with sweeping views to the Elbe. The León-Brücke bridge links the square with Brooktorpromenade, opened 2010 and leading alongside the DNV Germanischer Lloyd building ensemble to Ericusspitze and the Spiegel building. A special design feature here is the 30 m stone “sofa”. WES & Partner Landschaftsarchitekten (Hamburg) were responsible for most of the design of this open space. The Ericuspromenade, the continuation of Brooktorpromenade, ready since fall 2011, is an invitation to change levels. 

On the eastern side of Magdeburger Hafen, the promenade has led along the new Elbe Arcades on two levels since fall 2013 – by the water via a new pier with an integrated jetty for tourist barges and at the flood-protected warft level – continuing beside the harbor basin down to the new HafenCity University building. This now links the square in front of Kaispeicher B with the open spaces at HCU since, as of August 2014, the pier has continued southwards under Magdeburger Brücke bridge through to Lohsepark, Baakenhafen basin and the Elbe, offering a through route without crossing any roads. With their closeness to water, these promenade underpasses running beneath the higher bridges – Baakenhafen, Shanghai or Magdeburger bridge – are an outstanding functional feature of HafenCity. They provide excellent links between the various spaces by the water. 

Lohsepark in the center

The winning open space concept by Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten AG (Zurich) creates the basic framework for Lohsepark, the largest contiguous park in HafenCity, which was completed in July 2016. Covering 4.4 ha, the centrally sited park will incorporate wide-ranging urban, social and ecological functions. Generous sweeps of grass broken up by loosely winding pathways, seating areas and play opportunities will attract residents both young and old, as well as visitors from other places and people working locally. On the long sides of the park, bastion-like terraces open out to the street, providing an unobstructed transition between the green area and its urban surroundings, interlinking built structures and open space. 

A fundamental element of the park is the three-part denk.mal Hanover Railroad Station, which is also a memorial to the history of deportation in Hamburg. Between 1940 and 1945 more than 8,000 Jews, Roma and Sinti, who are known by name, were deported from here. It comprises a central place of remembrance, to be completed by May 2017, based on the relics of Platform 2 of the former station, as well as a landscaped “seam”, which can be walked since summer 2016. It leads right across the park, tracing the course of the historic rail tracks from the former station forecourt to the listed platform remains. A documentation center, within sight of the historic memorial, is being built on the western side of the park on Steinschanze street.

The leafy east of HafenCity

Lohsepark functions as a leafy urban planning hinge, a continuation of the inner city ring, which nowadays is only partly green. It passes through Baakenhafen with its Baakenhöft park, and on to the Elbe, joining up to the promenade at Kirchenpauerkai. The attractive planted embankment zone will be 30 meters wide and almost a kilometer long. It creates an urban planning link in the east with the green Elbe island of Entenwerder. The landscape planning competition for Am Baakenhafen neighborhood was won by Atelier Loidl (Berlin), whose plan for Baakenpark convinced the jury. As of 2018, the artificially infilled play and leisure promontory in the center of Baakenhafen basin will achieve the spatial integration of the two land areas. Together with a footbridge designed by gmp (Hamburg) and Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering (Stuttgart), which will be put into place in early summer 2017, this will form an important direct pedestrian connection between the north and south embankments of the harbor. This neighborhood recreation and relaxation place will be an inviting place to be, given its exciting topography and vegetation. Himmelsberg, a "mountain" almost 15 m high, will be built, trees planted and attractive lawns and a spacious, contiguous play landscape covering around 3,000 sqm laid out as well as a playground for all ages. The promenades by Versmannkai to the north and Petersenkai to the south frame the neighborhood, forming a continuous overall area on the waterside. Inside the urban area, several small local squares with bars, restaurants and shops on ground floors are central public places which assume important communication and networking functions.

Eastern endpoint

Elbbrücken quarter is already assuming contours. In fall 2015, the last urban planning competition for HafenCity came to a successful conclusion. The winning design by Hosoya Schaefer Architects (Zurich) cleverly mediates between the public and the spatial framework. The open space competition that followed was a repeat success for Atelier Loidl (Berlin), which was the winner in Baakenhafen. The winning design, declared the jury in December 2016, takes its inspiration from the red-brick esthetic of Baakenhafen, upgrading Amerigo Vespucci square to be a new focus for the neighborhood. It will become a robust urban square which can be used flexibly for events – and HafenCity’s largest. 

In addition to public open spaces, many private areas in HafenCity are also accessible to all residents, local employees and visitors. Public and private land is closely interlocked; many spaces in private ownership are subject to general rights of way or, as in Überseequartier, have comparable rights to public thoroughfares. This ensures, for instance, that private areas between buildings remain passable to pedestrians and sometimes cyclists – and that users have a dense network of paths and well-connected leisure areas at their disposal.

HafenCity’s public spaces are important, not just for its eventual 14,000 residents and 45,000 working population, but also for its many visitors. The urban spaces are very refined and adaptable to a multitude of activities. They can be noisy or peaceful, casual or contemplative, with grass or stone, hard or soft – and are proof of just how much can be done with old port areas. A crucial element of this very special aspect of HafenCity is blue: whether it stems from water or from the marine atmosphere of the former port with its quaysides. History is transformed in a haptic and visual sense – not concealed.