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About HafenCity

Europe’s largest inner-city urban development project as a blueprint for the new European city on the waterfront

In developing a new urban area on the Elbe, Hamburg is setting new standards in Europe and beyond as an ambitious integrated urban development, answering both local needs and global requirements. On an area of 157 ha, a lively city with a maritime feel is taking shape, combining workplace and residential uses, education, culture and leisure, tourism and retailing – in a way that is quite unlike downtowns dominated by offices and shops. And yet many aspects set HafenCity apart from many other major international urban waterside development projects. Apart from the area’s very central location and the high and growing expectations of quality, these include itsurbanity concept, its greatly increasing ecological sustainability and an intensive social mix underpinned by high-quality public spaces and economic sustainability elements.

The intensive interaction between land and water is also unique, for despite the risk of occasional flooding, Hafen​City is neither surrounded by dikes, nor cut off from the water. Instead, with the exception of the quays and promenades, the whole area is being raised to between 8 and 9 m above sea level. The concept of building on artificial compacted mounds (warfts) lends an area once dominated by port and industrial uses a new, characteristic topography, retaining access to the water and the typical port atmosphere, while guaranteeing protection from floods. 


The aims of HafenCity development are very extensive and not limited to single aspects. A new city area by the water is to be defined through its urban layout, architecture, inherent uses and identities, as well as emotionally. In total more than 2.5 million sqm gross floor area (GFA) is to be constructed above ground. More than 7,500 residential units for around 16,000 residents are being built, as well as business premises offering in excess of 45,000 job opportunities (of which 35,000 will be in offices), plus educational institutions (child daycare, schools, universities), restaurants and bars, retail, cultural and leisure amenities, with parks, plazas and promenades – after overall completion, 80,000 visitors per day are expected.

The point of departure for the urban planning and architectural reinterpretation of the place, however, centers on Hamburg’s established structures. Its milieu is informed by the Speicherstadt, the characteristic harbor basins, a few existing buildings and the horizontal nature and visual axes of the inner city. The use of red clinker brick opposite the Speicherstadt and in the center of HafenCity is another defining element, as is the light, almost white city on the more than three-kilometer-long southern shoreline on the River Elbe.

Development process

Since 1997, HafenCity Hamburg GmbH (HCH; until 2004 known as Gesellschaft für Hafen- und Standortentwicklung GHS) has been pulling the strings, overseeing all aspects of HafenCity’s development as the city’s manager of development, property owner (through the special assets fund for city and port) and developer of infrastructure. Since October 1, 2006, the HafenCity area has had so-called priority area status: all zoning plans are discussed from a whole-city perspective by the Commission for Urban Development, representing all political parties in Hamburg’s City Parliament, and developed by the Urban Development and Housing Ministry (BSW). Building permits are also granted by the Ministry rather than by the district administration as is usually the case.

Since the aim is to set international standards for conceptual and architectural quality, it is very important to attract developers and users willing to cooperate in setting high-quality benchmarks and in treading innovative paths. Tenders are invited for plots scheduled for residential use; the competition result is decisive. It is not the highest bid that succeeds – the crucial factor for awarding the contract is the quality of the use concepts submitted. Sites for office buildings, on the other hand, are not generally processed this way. Instead, companies planning to staff 60–70 percent of a building or site for their own purposes can apply to HafenCity Hamburg GmbH. 

Only following approval by the Land Commission does an exclusive option period with an obligation to plan begin. Then the builder/user, in agreement with the BSW and HCH, has to stage an architectural competition and prepare for building approval. The site is not sold to the developer before approval. This approach not only encourages cooperative, exacting and reliable developer behavior, it also offers many advantages for all those involved. The developer has adequate time to optimize plans, secure finance and perhaps acquire additional users. At the same time the city retains its ability to influence the building’s quality by intervening during the development process. This minimizes risks, reduces costs, optimizes schedules and avoids planning errors.


For Hamburg, HafenCity is not simply a major real estate project in which individual projects need to be realized as quickly and efficiently as possible – it is the vehicle for achieving exemplary urban quality and defining the city anew for the 21st century. But this is by no means confined to urban planning, architecture or uses. It also extends to sustainability. To give just one example, with its sustainable mobility concept (sharing and e-mobility) HCH is currently setting completely new priorities in eastern HafenCity and thus making a key contribution to Hamburg’s sustainable transformation strategy. Social sustainability and social resilience are other topics that are subject to ongoing strategic development and are being taken up by individual developers.

New experiments and innovations are constantly playing their part in HafenCity’s increasingly ambitious development, which in many areas has also emancipated itself from the 2000 Masterplan but without losing sight of its basic idea. Because the development of HafenCity simultaneously creates an institutional framework for integrating new model projects, it provides a highly regarded platform for innovation. The city of Hamburg can thus also substantially strengthen its pioneering role in the area of forward-looking urbanity and make a significant contribution to climate-friendly and social progress.


HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Integrated urban development management 

About HafenCity


A flexible basic matrix as the point of departure for good urban development

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