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Elbtower: the developer and architect have been chosen

The Hamburg Elbtower will be a powerful culmination to HafenCity development and at the same time a curtain-raiser for the entrée to inner-city Hamburg and the future urban development zones of Billebogen and Grasbrook. Just under a year since plans were first announced for a high-rise at the Elbe bridges in HafenCity, the developer and architect have been chosen

The graphic shows the view on the Elbtower.

Its distinguished and elegant form creates a surprising interplay from every angle and enters into lively dialog with the neighborhood. (© SIGNA/Chipperfield) Start slideshow

On February 8 in the City Hall, the architectural design and the use and development concept for Hamburg’s tallest building were presented by the Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, together with HafenCity Hamburg GmbH Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, Minister for Urban Development, Dr Dorothee Stapelfeldt, Chief Planning Officer, Franz-Josef Höing, the developer Timo Herzberg, Director of SIGNA Prime Selection AG, and Christoph Felger, Partner and Design Director of David Chipperfield Architects Berlin. At 235 meters, the Elbtower will be an unmistakable focal point in central Hamburg. Construction could get under way 2021, with opening in 2025 or 2026.

In future the Elbtower will take its place almost as a matter of course as an increasingly familiar part of Hamburg’s urban landscape, forming a – privately built and financed – sculptural urban counterpart to the Elbphilharmonie. It was the design’s great iconographic power coupled with a respectful incorporation into Hamburg’s built environment that convinced the jury assessing the three best bidder offers and purchase agreements on January 31, 2018. Made up of a mix of architects, town planners and real estate professionals, the jury voted unanimously for the design by David Chipperfield Architects Berlin and the offer and concept from SIGNA Prime Selection AG of Innsbruck. Together with building developer SIGNA Prime Selection AG, the well-known firm of architects, responsible inter alia for the New National Gallery in Berlin, the Nobel Center in Stockholm and the mixed-use high-rise “The Bryant” in New York, came out on top at the end of the complex selection procedure to build a high-rise by the Elbe bridges.

Only founded in 2010, SIGNA Prime Selection AG is now regarded as one of the leading real estate businesses in Europe, with a strong equity base and a high credit rating of A+. Its portfolio, with real estate investments totaling €8.5 million, includes KaDeWe in Berlin, the Golden Quarter in Vienna, with the Park Hyatt Vienna, and the Alsterhaus in Hamburg. Among the three best bidders, with whom HafenCity Hamburg GmbH simultaneously prepared three purchase agreements to the point where they were ready for signing, SIGNA scored points with its financial robustness and high capital backing as well as with the outstanding design by David Chipperfield Architects.

The Elbtower – a unique high-rise

The Elbtower is neither an architectural diva nor does it symbolize an architectural extravaganza. Its distinguished and elegant form creates a surprising interplay from every angle and enters into lively dialog with the neighborhood.

The building is suited on an almost triangular plot amid major infrastructure (rail tracks, roads) and directly adjacent to the first bridging point over the River Elbe. The tower soars upwards from a broad, triangular base, four to five stories high, that takes up the majority of the plot. The tower’s structural form is composed of an interplay between concave building contours.

Seen from the east the building has an upwardly divergent form; seen from the west its low-rise construction echoes buildings in HafenCity as it appears to step back from the adjacent rapid transit tracks. Because of the site’s high exposure to noise and wind, there will be no large open space here; instead a protected, enclosed urban area with a central square will be created in the low four-story part of the building that faces southwest.

A beacon for the neighborhood – uses

It is not just the iconographic effect of the building over distance that makes it important for Hamburg. Together with the new Elbbrücken subway and rapid transit station it will become a new urban hub with an influence reaching into the new urban development areas of Billebogen and Grasbrook.

When tenders were invited for the plot a great deal of value was already attached to effective public uses in the base of the building. The Elbtower will be a mixed-use high-rise with more than 100,000 m² gross floor area, extending upwards from a public, diversely used base containing entertainment and edutainment areas, retailing and catering, via semi-public uses such as hotel, boarding house, fitness and wellness areas, “Kinderland” and co-working space, to modern, flexibly designed office accommodation in the tower stories. The building’s social and communication meeting point is its naturally lit roofed-in atrium. All routes cross this light inner space that will be a focal point giving the Elbtower its identity. Because of the extremely high noise levels in this location, the developer has opted not to propose any residential use. The individual uses and areas within the categories have not been detailed, as seven years before completion of the building contracts cannot yet be negotiated; thus the hotel could occupy more space at the expense of offices, for instance.

Additionally, the Elbtower fulfils the highest sustainability criteria. It will receive HafenCity’s platinum Ecolabel and will be integrated into eastern HafenCity’s ambitious smart mobility concept.

The route to the best concept – a complex selection procedure

Owing to the complexity of this unusual task, a special procedure was selected for the “Elbtower” high-rise project: A single-phase developer selection process was carried out in which the highest expectations of architectural quality were coupled with reliable implementation and funding. 

The process was completed quickly and successfully within just nine months: The four-month tender and consultation phase began on May 31, 2017. September 15 was the deadline for submission of offers and designs. An interdisciplinary jury selected three candidates with whom HafenCity Hamburg GmbH entered parallel negotiations in November 2017 following agreement by the supervisory board. The selection was governed as much by urban development and architectural quality factors as by use concept, economic viability and reliability of implementation.

In a further decision by the jury on January 31, 2018, one of the three scrutinized offers was selected and the decision notarized following agreement on February 6, 2018 by the supervisory board. For the contract to become effective, the agreement of the Hamburg Parliament is required. Parliament is expected to debate the matter in the spring.

Olaf Scholz, Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg: “Hamburg is well aware of the effect radiating from its famous skyline and from magnificent individual buildings such as the Elbphilharmonie. I am very pleased that we are able to continue this urban masterpiece with a high-rise by the Elbe bridges that will evolve a power and fascination of its own and yet slot respectfully into Hamburg’s built environment. Coming after the Elbphilharmonie, David Chipperfield’s design for the Elbtower adds a further feature to the “Hamburg Artwork”, as Hamburg’s erstwhile Chief Planning Officer Fritz Schumacher called it. But it is important that we have not only an outstanding architectural design but also a private developer who will successfully implement the project, bringing to it financial soundness and profound experience of complex projects.”

Dr Dorothee Stapelfeldt, Minister for Urban Development and Housing: “About 25 years after the Masterplan was agreed, the Elbtower sees HafenCity reach its eastern conclusion, just as Professor Marg envisaged before the development began. It will mark both the entrée to the inner city and the point where Hamburg’s three major urban developments come together: HafenCity, eastern Hamburg and the leap across the Elbe. For those approaching by car or train from the south across the Elbe bridges, the Elbtower will make it clear that the growing city of Hamburg has the courage to create impressive architecture, neighborhoods worth living in and future-proof jobs.

Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, Chief Executive Officer of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH: “As is well known, Hamburg’s first high-rise was what is today the Brahms-Kontor in the Neustadt district. Its height of 50 meters even qualified it in 1930 as the tallest steel-framed building in Europe. The Hamburg Elbtower creates a new type, a ‘21st century Kontorhaus’. In its unpretentious and distinguished elegance it suits Hamburg’s sobriety well. And yet it also symbolizes the city’s future potential, its economic power, its courage to shape the future. In real estate terms the Elbtower also signalizes new ambitions not just in terms of height, but also in terms of quality.”

Timo Herzberg, Director of SIGNA Prime Selection AG: “Hamburg, a city with a long history and a high profile, is getting a new urban landmark in the form of the Elbtower. Through the project we want to create a place that appeals to and unites the whole of society by generating spatial and functional structures that make space for diverse ways of working and uses. We are very proud that the jury voted unanimously for our spectacular design and concept.” 

David Chipperfield of David Chipperfield Architects: “We are delighted to have won the tender together with SIGNA and to have the opportunity to work in Hamburg again, particularly in such an important location. As architects we are increasingly aware that cities are dependent on the quality of private construction projects to create a strong public and social dimension that engages with the city’s complexity. We are looking forward to living up to this responsibility with the Elbtower project.”

Christoph Felger, Partner and Design Director, David Chipperfield Architects: “Sixteen years ago we won our first competition for a high-rise in Hamburg. In a week’s time that building will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. We feel very honored to be able to follow on from that success by designing a real landmark for Hamburg that we associate with Hamburg values such as dynamic composure and understatement.”

Franz-Josef Höing, Chief Planning Officer, Ministry for Urban Development and Housing: “The selected project by Chipperfield Architects promises to become a tall and elegant building in this central site by the Elbe bridges. The lovely, slim tower looks very different depending on the angle it is viewed from. With its fineness, delicate façade and white texture it picks up the Hanseatic tradition of the white city by the water.”

Views from the jury (meeting on January 31, 2018)

Christoph Ingenhoven, co-chairman of the jury, freelance architect (Düsseldorf): “A high-rise in such an extroverted location and with such outstanding height in the Hamburg cityscape must show itself worthy of such a position through self-confidence, composure, elegance and simplicity. David Chipperfield Architects have achieved not just that but also a pleasing physical presence, a vibrancy and an effect within the urban environment that distinguishes itself pleasantly from much of what we encounter. We hope to see high material quality, well thought-out details, convincing coloration of stone and glass and a good impression from all the very different angles and dramatic variability of light in which the building will present itself. We are convinced that we have found a design that will prove equal to the exceptional and unique nature of the project.”

Prof. Kees Christiaanse, Professor at ETH Zurich and author of the HafenCity Masterplan: “The selected design for the Elbtower is distinguished by a sensitive sculptural form that will provide a very appropriate and – despite its spectacular height – sophisticated landmark at the location between the Elbe bridges at the eastern tip of HafenCity. The mobile structure of the tower extends upwards with gently leaning and curved planes out of the building base and gives the impression of a bow at the eastern tip of HafenCity. Due to the dynamic interplay of the planes, the appearance of the building changes surprisingly from different angles; this interplay gives the tower great stability while at the same time it appears to sail by in stately fashion. This characteristic gives the building a degree of lightness which relativizes its large dimensions.”

Dr Frank Billand, co-chairman of the jury and former Director of Union Investment: “Among the chief award criteria for the Elbtower project were, in addition to attractive architecture and compatibility with the urban landscape, above all reliable implementation in view of the relatively long planning and construction time before it is ready for use. Also regarding the considerable investment volume involved, I see the outcome of the negotiations as exceedingly positive for the City of Hamburg: financial soundness and experience of projects of a similar magnitude on the part of the bidder, robust guarantees of the commitments undertaken and an adequately documented commitment by the investor and the banks supporting the bid provide a solid foundation for allocating the land and the project’s realization.”

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