Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai

Fine-grained and lively

Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai in northwest HafenCity was the first quarter to be completed

When the Elbphilharmonie concert hall was officially opened on January 11, 2017, public interest was expected to be enormous, but no one had expected it to reach such huge dimensions. In the first 12 months alone, about 4.5 million visitors stood on the public plaza at a height of 37 meters – the forecast was 1.7 million. That is far more visitors than to Neuschwanstein castle and about the same number as to the Sistine Chapel in Rome in the same period. Media from all over the world reported on the concert venue in HafenCity. In Germany alone, more than 50,000 articles appeared. Construction of the rapturously received temple to music took a good ten years. Anger about the delays to construction and the high costs seems almost forgotten.

Now 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 in its historical base, visually blends highly visible contemporary building skill with the port’s tradition and its historic architecture, connecting it with the new identity of HafenCity 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; this sought-after place is an 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 Speicherstadt UNESCO World Heritage site 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. 

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.  

The architecture of the buildings in the neighborhood is diverse. For the 15 buildings of Dalmannkai alone, 27 developers and 26 architectural firms ensured a high degree of diversity of the individual structures and, despite a clear urban profile, almost no uniform contours and cubature. The plazas and promenades are a different matter: after an international competition, throughout western HafenCity they were planned by EMBT of Barcelona. Landscaping of basements and promenades on Sandtorkai was designed by BHF Landschaftsarchitekten (Kiel).

A variety of lifestyles side by side 

Around 1,000 people now 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., which was founded here. 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. Even though there was no legal basis for the construction of subsidized housing until 2010, a high diversity of residents was already a goal at that time. 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, many 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. Thus, for the first time, it was possible to create an intensive mix in a modern urban quarter, which is still constantly changing today.

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.

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