Überseequartier: Highly Complex Diversity in a Central Location

While northern Überseequartier’s urban qualities unfurl increasingly, a breakthrough has been reached in development and realization of its southern area at the heart of HafenCity

Überseequartier will be HafenCity’s commercial heart. Here a view from the River Elbe: cruise terminal and hotel on the left and – easily recognizable – the beginning of Überseeboulevard between twin tower blocks (© moka-studio)

With its 14 ha of urban space, Überseequartier signifies much more than additional attractions for HafenCity. It offers a wide variety of residential uses for 2,000 residents as well as 6,100 potential jobs of the most diversified types; it is the commercial core of HafenCity, presenting international wares to an average 50,000 retail customers every day and entertainment until late at night; it is the site of a vertically integrated terminal for cruise ships and hotel uses with a multiplicity of rooms adding up to 1,100. Even by HafenCity standards this is an extremely eclectic mix. It also illustrates just how far HafenCity has developed as a city in terms of its integrated complex mix of uses. It is setting international standards.


Since the spatial realization of HafenCity is taking place from north to south, the northern part, offering around 140,000 sqm gross floor area (GFA) for living, offices, retail, catering and hotel uses, has been more or less finished since 2010, with the exception of one site. Its structure is based on an overall urban planning concept by international architects, based on the urban planning blueprint developed by Trojan Trojan + Partner. Public spaces throughout Überseequartier and areas around Magdeburger Hafen basin were realized according to a concept by Catalan landscape architect Beth Galí and her firm BB+GG arquitectes. The characteristic striped ground surfaces composed of reddish, gray and light-colored natural stone slabs is omnipresent in central HafenCity.

In northern Überseequartier, which features less retail than the south, which is still to be built, more than two dozen shops and places to eat and drink have opened. In the north the more than 340 apartments built are rented out. The 32,600 sqm of office space created is occupied by well-known firms such as lawyers Esche Schümann Commichau and the oil multi BP. At the beginning of 2015 a special German real estate fund managed for several long-term investing pension funds by Hines Immobilien GmbH acquired most of the completed buildings. Sumatrakontor had already been sold to Blackstone.


In late summer 2015 building work began on the last remaining vacant sites in the northern section of the neighborhood. Between Sandtorkai and Tokiostrasse (34/15 and 34/16), an unusually sophisticated mix of homes, a hotel and entertainment complex with premium cinema is reinforcing the urbanity of the northern area. Prime responsibility for its realization is with DC Commercial and DC Residential. Nalbach + Nalbach Architekten GmbH of Berlin is responsible for planning the building sited to the north (34/15) in which cinema entrepreneur Hans-Joachim Flebbe (Astor Film Lounge) will run a luxury cinema. Next door, a hotel to appeal to families is to be realized jointly by Kai Hollmann, Frederik and Gerrit Braun (Miniatur Wunderland) and Professor Norbert Aust (Schmidts Tivoli). The winning design for the southern residential and commercial complex (34/16) is by blauraum architekten of Hamburg.The 214 residences to be built here are exclusively for rental; one third are subsidized homes.

Finally the former harbor master’s office, Altes Hafenamt, one of the few remaining original buildings in Hafen-City, opened in March 2016 as an upmarket hotel with a restaurant and bar. Project developer Groß & Partner in partnership with Hamburg hotelier Kai Hollmann were responsible for this unusual project. Hollmann, co-owner and operator of the hotel, is founder of the 25 hours hotel group and managing director of the Fortune Hotels group.

In contrast to the conventional shopping formats of Hamburg’s city center with its passageway malls and main-street-format Mönckebergstrasse and Spitalerstrasse, northern Überseequartier with its owner-run boutiques, its post office, drug store and supermarket, gastronomic attractions and handful of specialist shops already has a profile of its own. The area is increasingly lively and integrated, for example through the small center around the old harbor master’s office, Altes Hafenamt – even so the whole northern area is affected by the delay in development of its southern counterpart.


An optimistic atmosphere prevails in southern Überseequartier since the overall development and realization of the project was taken over by Unibail-Rodamco in December 2014, which was a major milestone. Europe’s leading quoted real estate concern is investing around EUR 860 million in the 260,000 sqm GFA to be developed. Of this, about 80,500 sqm will be retail, 55,000 sqm residential and 65,000 sqm commercial. In addition, cultural uses will occupy some 12,000 sqm; bars, cafés and restaurants about 8,000 sqm. Hotel space will amount to about 40,000 sqm.


The changeover to Unibail-Rodamco creates an opportunity to put the original concept on a new viable basis for the future. Retail will be more attractively designed, office space reduced in favor of apartments, and the cruise terminal better integrated into the local urban structure. Retail space will be arranged over three stories – basement, ground and first. This way, circuitous routes will be created in basement and ground floors, with a far greater mix of sizes, including two or three anchor tenants and shops, all with large dimension shop window frontage. Space on first floors will be accessed from ground floors.

The new southern waterfront will really stand out: southern Überseequartier will change the cityscape, adding a new perimeter on the Elbe with an ensemble comprising the cruise passenger terminal, two 60 m towers in the center and a sculptural 70 m office building on Magdeburger Hafen basin. The red-brick character here will be offset by light, glazed façades reflecting the river, port and sky.

The current Cruise Center HafenCity will be replaced by a vertically organized terminal integrated into southern Überseequartier with the capacity to process more than 3,000 passengers at a time and served by two berths. Apart from the actual cruise ship business, the complex ensemble of buildings also has an underground bus station, car-parking spaces and a taxi stand, as well as hotel and retail space cleverly overlapping and interlinked.

Most residences in southern Überseequartier are being built to the north of the subway line to exclude conflicts of use with the cruise terminal and late-night entertainment. Adding the around 500 units being built in the southern section to the 600 or so apartments in the northern part, Überseequartier alone will have some 1,100 residences – which is almost double the number originally planned.

Since the buildings to the south of the subway will be protected against rain and partially against wind by a glass roof and altered alignment to prevailing weather, they will create a more pleasant shopping experience. At the same time, unlike fully air-conditioned, closed in shopping mall concepts, the open street area and open character of the spaces between the buildings will be preserved. The latter is anyway a characteristic of the whole of Überseequartier, both in north and south. For even though the floor space will be owned long-term by private builders – Unibail-Rodamco in the south, in the north primarily fund administrator Hines Immobilien – they will retain their public right of way and space concept and their openness.


The year 2015, in which both the use concept and urban planning structures were thoroughly overhauled, was also used to provide new architecture for all 11 buildings in southern Überseequartier. With numerous different integrated uses and through the interaction between different buildings – red brick in the center, light façades on the Elbe waterfront – Überseequartier now becomes the exciting core of a new downtown area. Internationally renowned architects such as Pritzker prizewinner Christian de Portzamparc (7, 11) or UNStudio (10) are involved, as well as the important German architects’ offices Carsten Roth (1), léonwohlhage (2), kbnk (3), Hild und K (4, 9), Böge Lindner K2 (5, 8), Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei (6), with interior design from Saguez & Partners (14), and last but not least, Sobek Design for the roof construction (13). The roof, a highly complex glass and metal construction, will shield central shopping areas south of the U4 subway station against wind and rain, and mediates between the individual architectural highlights. As is the case all over HafenCity, high ecological standards will also be set in Überseequartier. All buildings will be constructed to meet the tough criteria of the gold HafenCity Ecolabel or the stringent BREEAM Excellent Standard.


Thus both in terms of its use concept and its urban structure, the new concept for southern Überseequartier also harks back to the themes of the original plans. Nevertheless, the new beginning is being made use of to introduce new elements which create much better conditions for long term success in running Überseequartier as the mixed use, commercial heart of HafenCity. Large anchor retail uses, new entertainment attractions, including a large multiplex cinema with more than ten auditoria and 2,700 seats, a super-efficient, attractive cruise terminal, and a new waterfront area with architecturally outstanding buildings: all of these elements will add up to an underlying high visitor frequency, also during the week and in the evenings – with the potential to become an animated “24-hour city”.

A new shopping neighborhood will grow up – open and urbanistic, not air-conditioned but protected against weather, which is interspersed with other well-connected public amenities with public appeal, such as residential, office and hotel space. The integration of the new cruise terminal will create an overall area whose intensity of use, mix and size is so far unique, at least in Europe, and which will benefit smaller and medium size shops and the many ground floor areas throughout HafenCity.

Through its open urban planning structure, in which there are no climatic borders and no obvious “inside” and “outside”, central Überseequartier will develop enormous integrative power embracing the whole of HafenCity. As the heart of the new district, it will mobilize pedestrian flows between the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, along Kaiserkai, as well as between Strandkai point and Überseequartier. Other beneficiaries will be the areas between Speicherstadt and southern Überseequartier, as well as walking routes around Magdeburger Hafen basin.

The first step in construction, the excavation of the enormous building site, is likely to begin at the start of 2017 when the zoning plan has been finalized and building applications have been made. Completion of central areas with retail, catering, entertainment, cruise passenger terminal, hotel and some office and residential is expected in 2021.


In the future, established inner-city shopping areas are to be more closely linked to HafenCity. So far continuing growth of retail in the city and development of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have led to improvements in both quality and supply there, but not yet to a gradual “growing together” of city and HafenCity. The establishment of a strong magnet such as Überseequartier will mean that, medium term, conditions can now be created for shoppers to stroll back and forth between an integrated Mönckebergstrasse, Spitalerstrasse and HafenCity.