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Elbtower: Culmination of HafenCity and entrée to city center

Plans to build a high-rise in HafenCity next to the Elbe bridges are taking on concrete form. On March 8, the Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, the Chief Executive of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, and Hamburg’s Chief Planning Officer, Prof. Jörn Walter, publicly laid out the conditions for this outstanding construction project in Hamburg’s Town Hall. A high-rise that makes a strong statement is envisaged next to the Elbe bridges, forming both a powerful culmination of HafenCity’s development in the east and an entrée to Hamburg’s inner city

Now, 16 years since planning and construction began, HafenCity is making great strides towards the east.

Now, 16 years since planning and construction began, HafenCity is making great strides towards the east (© moka-studio)

The project calls for special qualities: a sculptural high-rise, an unusual top to the building and sustainable construction to the highest international technical standards. It can be about 200 m high. Uses that would come into consideration include offices, hotel, exhibition and event space and possibly residential. The public amenity uses could make the building a meeting point for HafenCity, the districts of Rothenburgsort and Veddel, and the whole of Hamburg. The agenda is now being set for finding a developer and realizing the construction. Following a public curtain-raiser in Hamburg, the project will be presented to the international public for the first time at the real estate fair in Cannes next week. The private developer is due to be identified in 2018; then it will be for the Hamburg Senate and Parliament to decide. Construction could begin in 2020/2021.

The idea of creating a significant entrance to Hamburg’s inner city here at the Elbe bridges, outside the sphere of influence of Hamburg’s historic skyline, goes right back to the genesis of HafenCity. It is more than 20 years since Volkwin Marg produced his “draft principles”, laying out first ideas for HafenCity as an extension of inner-city Hamburg by the River Elbe: Between the two Elbe bridges are two high-rises, an unmistakable eastern culmination to the new city district. A few years later, in 1999, the first urban-planning competition for HafenCity generated many proposals for high-rises in this location, and so a high-rise development was incorporated into the Masterplan and the urban-planning concept for HafenCity. This idea was reiterated in the plans for the Olympic Games in Hamburg and for Chicago Square.

Now, 16 years since planning and construction began, HafenCity is making great strides towards the east. Work has been under way underground since 2013 on the 1.3 km extension of the U4 subway. The new “Elbbrücken” station is due to open at the end of 2018, and from 2019 a glazed pedestrian bridge will link it to the equally new rapid transit station. At Elbbrücken, HafenCity’s easternmost neighborhood, infrastructure and real estate development is already well advanced. This poses the question of how the hitherto undefined location by the Elbe bridges could form a special and fitting culmination of HafenCity’s more than 20 years of development and become a new focal point for Hamburg.

Now, the entrée to the inner city and the upper boundary of the Elbe navigation at the Elbe bridges are both to be marked by a single distinct place. The location marks a highly signification point in Hamburg’s cityscape, recognizable over long distances. In this respect it is unparalleled in the long term and will not attract any further high-rise developments. The “Elbtower” will create a striking entrance to the city, giving the cityscape clear contours from the south, from the north – outside the sightlines to the city’s church spires – and from the east and west. This is the only point where Hamburg can really grow upwards without disturbing the historical cityscape and inner-city skyline of church spires.

This construction project is a complex and demanding task that will require a long lead time for planning, attracting suitable developers, and realization. For that reason, and given the high real estate interest in Hamburg and HafenCity, it is a well-chosen moment to tackle the project of constructing a high-rise by the Elbe bridges.

The basis of the call for tenders for the site is a sculptural high-rise with an unmistakable top to the building that particularly emphasizes the unique character of this location by the Elbe bridges while simultaneously doing justice to the historic Elbe bridging point without impinging on it. A departure from the original Masterplan and from many high-rises worldwide is that the “Elbtower” will be a mixed-use building, with offices, hotel space and possibly even apartments. The high-rise will stand on a plinth whose public amenity uses such as exhibition and cultural space, catering, event and conference areas or retailing will enable it to develop an urban, public character despite its setting between main thoroughfares.

Olaf Scholz, Mayor of Hamburg: “The ‘Elbtower’ in HafenCity offers Hamburg outstanding opportunities for urban development and the city economy. Hamburg has just celebrated the brilliant opening of the Elbphilharmonie to great international acclaim. The eye of the world is on Hamburg. Now the ‘Elbtower’ gives us the chance to anchor what the then chief planning officer, Fritz Schumacher, called the ‘Hamburg Artwork’ – the Inner Alster, the Town Hall Square and their urbanistic framework – definitively in the 21st century without relinquishing any of the quality of the past.”

Prof. Jörn Walter, Chief Planning Officer: “The Elbe bridges have always been felt to be the gateway to Hamburg, whether one approaches by train, by car or by river vessel; when you reach the Elbe bridges you’ve arrived. There is no place in the cityscape that merits being singled out and flagged up from far away more than this ‘magical’ location. And it is possible here because the skyline of the old town with its church spires is not affected. Here HafenCity, the biggest urban development project of our generation, describes a thrilling arc from the Elbphilharmonie to the Elbe bridges.”

Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, Chief Executive of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH: “The ‘Elbtower’ is of outstanding urbanistic importance for HafenCity and for Hamburg. Its concept and construction are meant to make it an especially sustainable building, too. That is why we are in favor of the tower. For the real estate market, the ‘Elbtower’ signals new ambitions not only in terms of height, but also in terms of quality. In the decades to come, and probably for more than a century, there can be no comparable building in Hamburg.”

The next step is for HafenCity Hamburg GmbH to set the agenda for the call for tenders, for finding a suitable private developer and for the architectural draft. Following the public curtain-raiser in Hamburg, the ‘Elbtower’ project will be presented to an international public for the first time at the MIPIM real estate fair in Cannes from March 14 to 17.

The requirement is for a bidding consortium or project team equal to the special challenge of developing and realizing a high-rise with a vertically mixed structure and constructing an esthetically pleasing, sustainable building. Bidders must also be able to provide appropriate (international) project references. A tender phase of about four months will be followed by several months of negotiations with a maximum of two bidders. Given the magnitude and significance of this project, the final decision concerning the developer and the concept as well as the architect and plans will lie with the Hamburg Parliament.


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