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Urban spaces

A city of plazas, parks and promenades

For a little over three decades HafenCity has been transforming what was previously a purely working port that, despite being less than a kilometer from Hamburg’s city hall, though separated from it by customs fences, had none of the characteristics of an urban space, yet was full of potential to develop socially, culturally and politically. Bleak harbor basins, transport facilities, storage sheds and plants ranging from power stations to a coffee steamery are being transformed into a new inner city characterized by a high degree of urbanity. Here, people not only work, but also live and pursue cultural and leisure activities. This demands a new amenity value and potential for encounter. These come about through a multitude of public spaces with high-quality new promenades, square, terraces and parks – often with a direct link to the Elbe.  

Seven aesthetically functionally designs from six well-known and internationally active landscape architects in total give the open spaces in HafenCity their character. Two designs shape the narrow transitional area between Speicherstadt and Sandtorhafen (Bendfeldt, Herrmann & Franke of Kiel) as well as between Speicherstadt, Brooktor basin and Ericus basin (WES, Hamburg). The large-scale, multi-neighborhood designs by EMBT (Barcelona) and Beth Galí (Barcelona) are responsible for the quality of the public spaces in western and central HafenCity. Lohsepark, the central park in HafenCity including the denk.mal Hanover Railroad Station memorial, was designed by Voigt of Zurich, while the character of the open spaces in the whole of eastern HafenCity right down to the Elbe bridges can be traced back to two successive competition wins by Atelier Loidl (Berlin).

New urban topography

Very distinctive public spaces are being created on various levels in HafenCity, based on a new topography that incorporates the water areas. The flood protection concept of building on artificial mounds (Warften) specific to HafenCity generates important potential for public spaces in the district. Besides the need for flood protections, the formerly homogeneous topography of the port is being developed into a vertical topography on three levels. This makes additional differentiation possible and gives the space a distinct character: In addition to the flood-protected “Warft” level as a new “city level”, the former port level becomes today’s promenade level. In some of the harbor basins, a tidal level of floating waterside areas, such as the expansive pontoons of the Traditional Ship Harbor or the various jetties, adds to the urban space.

An essential quality of the new topography can be seen in the multiple transitions between these levels and the resulting open space typologies including parks, central squares and neighborhood plazas and a 10.5 km system of promenades. The differing heights offer a variety of incentives for playful interaction with the transitions. Squares such as the central Dar es Salaam Square or Amerigo Vespucci Square in eastern HafenCity have an almost imperceptible slope. Others, such as the Magellan Terraces and the Marco Polo Terraces, ingeniously interlock barrier-free ramps with steps in their use concepts. But it is not only the heads of the harbor basins that point up the wealth of ideas for HafenCity’s flexible and multifunctional topography. Almost  everywhere one can find intelligent and creative solutions that provide users with urban spaces that can be enjoyed extremely flexible and, in addition to their amenity value, make it quick and easy to get around.  

Squares and promenades

At Sandtorhafen the architects from EMBT have succeeded in creating an open space ensemble bounded by buildings and offering a magnificent view. It fashions a topographically linear sequence from Sandtorpark at the flood-protected level via the differentially graded plaza of the Magellan Terraces to the pontoons of the Traditional Ship Harbor that form a floating tidal waterside space. The development of the open spaces surrounding Magdeburger Hafen have turned the harbor basin into an absolutely central waterside space in HafenCity. To one side lies the green boulevard of Osakaallee with buttress walls, grassy banks, varying steps and a storefront in the “Warft” plinth. Opposite is a city square in front of the Maritime Museum plus a promenade and urban loggia along the Elbe Arcades project. Busanbrücke bridge links both sides in the form of a plaza.  

Several small neighborhood squares, with catering and retail amenities on the ground floors, are among the central public places within the urban space and fulfill important communication and connectivity roles. The urban flavor of Atelier Loidl’s design for Elbbrücken quarter in eastern HafenCity extends Hamburg’s red-brick aesthetics, in particular upgrading the Amerigo Vespucci Square at the head of Baakenhafen to become a new center in the east of the district. HafenCity’s largest square will become a robust, flexible space that can be used for events. The topographical contoured and gently sloping landscape of the plaza also marks the continuation of the open space design of the neighboring Baakenhafen quarter. The ensemble there of Baakenpark and the promenades is reinforced by the continuation of the brick-red “Warft” walls that cleverly merge into the rising topography of the square, integrating various functions such as steps for climbing, steps for sitting on, and ramps.  

Because parking is organized within the building plinths, the urban space and street areas manage with a minimum of parking provision in the public areas. Above-ground parking is reduced and street areas are primarily places for mobility and green areas rather than storage spaces for cars. In addition, a new horizontal spatial sequence is taking shape. It consists of the linking of public space (urban street spaces and neighborhood squares), private but publicly usable space (neighborhood walkways and courtyards), and public space on the waterfront (promenades and city squares, free of motorized traffic). While the streets are mostly lined on both sides by buildings, the public areas at the port level are bounded by buildings and bodies of water. This creates public areas that both urban and maritime.

The conscious urban distribution of built and unbuilt areas creates a differentiation of open spaces to regulate intensity of use, as well as an outstanding aesthetic and functional design of the entire urban space. It is only in their interaction that these different levels generate different fields of action so as to physically define public space, to prepare it for everyday social behavior, and to provide the capacity for social interaction. The interplay between public spaces and private but publicly usable spaces is essential in this context. In many places, public promenades and squares merge into publicly usable but private spaces without the user even being aware of any restrictions.

Green open spaces

Sandtorpark and Grasbrookpark (EMBT) have been developed as green neighborhood parks with many small elements for western HafenCity. Designed to be continuations of the heads of the harbor basins and the urban squares, they are popular, both as recreational spaces and as intensively used play areas, with residents, workers and visitors alike, including from beyond HafenCity. Wide-ranging urban, social and ecological functions are fulfilled by central Lohsepark, designed by Vogt (Zurich). At 4.4 ha, it is HafenCity’s largest continuous green space and is characterized by generous sweeps of grass broken up by loosely winding pathways, seating areas, and sport and play opportunities. 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.

Lohsepark offers three height levels that are interlinked and interlocked in a variety of ways, sometimes flowing smoothly into one another. A semi-natural embankment in the north and a public flight of steps in the south define the transitions to the promenades and water areas. Within the park, squares called “bastions” introduce the surrounding urban space into the green area. The lower park level gives access to the historical Hanover Railroad Station memorial level. With the three-part “denk.mal Hanover Railroad Station”, the most important inner-city memorial to the history of deportation in Hamburg is carefully and impressively integrated into the park. In addition to a central place of remembrance based on the relics of the former station platform, the location from which more than 8,000 Jews, Roma and Sinti, who are known by name, were deported includes a landscape “seam”, which can be walked. It leads right across the park, tracing the course of the historic rail tracks from the former station forecourt to the listed platform remains with the name plaques of the victims.

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 embankment zone will be 30 meters wide and over a kilometer long. It creates an urban planning link in the east with the green Elbe island of Entenwerder. The topographical highlight can be found in eastern HafenCity in Baakenpark. Based on a design by Atelier Loidl (Berlin), Baakenpark stands out from its surroundings not only physically with its 15-meter-high “Himmelsberg”. The artificially infilled 1.5 ha play and leisure promontory with natural embankments in the tidal Baakenhafen harbor basin and the adjacent bridge together provide for an outstanding spatial integration of the two neighboring land areas. In addition, it is an unmistakable new landscape element that fits convincingly into the port milieu. The island’s unusual shape and topography have created a variety of open spaces that can be used by different groups as well as a very special playground for children.

Urban nature

Common to all the HafenCity open space designs is the transformation of the former grey, hard-edged port area into a green urban space with copious tree planting. By the time the development is complete, more than 3,000 new trees overall will have been planted in HafenCity. They are not only to be found in the green parks, such as Lohsepark where more than 530 trees of 26 species have been planted. The newly created urban and neighborhood squares and the promenades along the former port quaysides have been planted with numerous different tree species. The give the water areas and promenades a green fringe, thus making for high-quality open spaces and an improved city microclimate. The street areas with their many new trees have also been laid out to a high standard and make a major contribution to the green character of the waterside district. the street areas alone will have contributed more than 2,000 new trees by the time the district is complete.

The choice of suitable tree species is based on preparation of a tree masterplan by the landscape architects Lohaus Carl (Hanover). The tree masterplan contains species that take into account the extreme locations with planting in in-fill, and thus dry and windy urban climate conditions, as well as further climate change. They also contribute to increasing biodiversity in the city. HafenCity’s major access roads are laid our as three-row and in some cases four-row avenues with a green median strip. The species chosen in the masterplan are primarily trees with a light crown and fine, mostly pinnate foliage suited to the difficult sites. The connecting axes tot he Speicherstadt and the existing city center are planted mostly with the Japanese pagoda tree (bot. Styphnolobium japonicum). Versmannstrasse is fringed by a three-row avenue of Turkey oak (bot. Quercus cerris). Trees in the neighborhood streets include ashes (bot. Fraxinus angustifolia “Raywood”), various robinia, or locust tree, cultivars (bot. Robinia pseudoacacia “Unifolia”, Robinia pseudoacacia “Semperflorens”) and the honey locust tree (bot. Gleditsia triacanthos).

As well as the intensive everyday usage open spaces in HafenCity can expect, designs, especially in Lohsepark and in eastern HafenCity, also take into account encouragement of urban nature and biodiversity. Green embankments in northern Lohsepark and Baakenpark create soft transitions to the intertidal zone of the harbor basins. An increasingly species-rich flora and fauna is developing as a result of the changing water levels and colonization by sedges, tidal reedbeds and riparian vegetation – a little bit of urban nature in the inner-city. The same is true of the extensively managed and little-used meadow areas within the parks. The “enclosed wilderness” in Lohsepark is a natural space in the midst of this urban park. The laid-out and fenced planting with indigenous shrubs is being left to itself with no management, and people have to stay outside here. Apart from its design concept, the memorial in Lohsepark also contains a further bit of urban nature. The former rail tracks have been covered with areas of scree and primary planting. Pioneer species such as birches, robinias, wild roses and buddleias are developing and putting their stamp on the area.

In Lohsepark and Baakenpark fruit trees have found their way into the public parks and thus the inner city. Apple and cherry trees are enriching the planting concepts for the parks. The fruits of the trees, old varieties, and in Lohsepark also labelled, can be picked by anyone. The residents’ initiative “Friends of Lohsepark” has become the sponsor for the trees, looking after them since the park was completed. Sponsorship of street trees is also part of everyday life in the new neighborhood. It demonstrates the commitment of residents and neighborhoods, and the species-rich street planting contributes to the quality of the streetscape and an increase in the biodiversity of our city streets.


Public spaces in HafenCity – especially the promenades and squares – have become visible public everyday areas since 2005, when the first urban spaces were completed. Their various characteristics, curiosity about the emerging urban area and fascination with the water all unleash a high quality that calls out to be used. Even if the aesthetic-functional design of the open spaces themselves does not yet create a public domain, their shaping at least significantly expands the potential for a public domain to emerge. Large and yet varied areas create incentives for people to enjoy a city stroll. At the same time, the individual locations have such fine-grained differentiation that a multitude of ways of identifying with them emerges, facilitating the simultaneously presence of different user groups as well as varying uses at different times. These can be noisy or quiet, sporting or contemplative, on the grass or on the stone: they all demonstrate what can be created from the rough site of port sheds – namely an identity all of its own with a social cohesive effect entirely through how it is designed.

This identity is multi-layered, individual and typical of HafenCity. On the one hand it is characterized by the raw environment of the Elbe and the port to the south, on the other altered by the structures of the buildings and the spaces between them. The public spaces are thus shaped by the physical environment of the water, the tides and the structures of a modern port. These manifest themselves as promenades, jetties, (historical= quaysides, waterside squares or promontories bounded by water. HafenCity’s public open spaces often relate to traditional port life. At the same time, they are overlaid with new, materially independent, sometimes playful, differentiated and distinctive forms that ensure a variety of usability and a high degree of recognition. Acceptance of these public spaces by visitors and residents is high, and their intensive use makes an important new contribution to HafenCity’s identity. The range of uses and users, players and activities coupled with the material structures of the development ultimately form a closely linked image specific to HafenCity.


Am Lohsepark

Central green city neighborhood with a historyA family-friendly residential quarter with the largest green area in HafenCity is being built on the historic industrial and railroad station site

Urban development

Social development

Urbanity in a social context

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