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Urban planning

A European city for the 21st century

Following an intensive phase of several preliminary studies at the end of the 1990s, the Masterplan marks the first milestone in the urban planning of HafenCity. Despite its prominent role, the Masterplan was intended from the outset as a flexible concept that could be updated and refined and fleshed out in the further planning and development process. Thus, it comprises only basic technical statements on traffic, flood protection or open space planning, to be developed further by in-depth technical and planning studies. The structural design of the buildings themselves is also given individual form through neighborhood-specific urban planning competitions and architectural competitions for each individual building project. The multitude of competitive, and in some cases cooperative, procedures ensures the plurality of design, technical, functional and social ideas that make up a European city.

The judging panel for the competitions consists of experts from the fields of architecture and urban planning, the municipal authorities, in particular the Ministry for Urban Development and the Environment (BSW) with the Chief Planning Officer, the district administration, politicians (from the district administration and/or the city parliament), the clients (in the case of building construction competitions), the management of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH and, in an advisory capacity, two HafenCity residents. Planning and engineering offices from various disciplines are involved in the preparatory and follow-up work, and as experts. While the formal urban land-use plans are developed by the HafenCity Project Group at the BSW, HafenCity Hamburg GmbH coordinates the competition procedures. This enables the project knowledge required for implementation to be pooled in one place.

Density and mix

HafenCity is a conversion project in which port areas formerly used by industry and logistics are being transformed into a mixed-use urban quarter for living, working and leisure. In order to enable living in the direct vicinity of the still existing port of Hamburg, the so-called HafenCity windows were developed in coordination with the Federal Environmental Agency. These windows have a special window reveal that allows natural ventilation while significantly reducing noise in the interior.  In addition, a port planning ordinance was issued that limits noise emissions in the port areas opposite HafenCity. Together with a floor plan design in which the rooms to be protected face away from the port, this ensures that the port and the city can coexist. The reuse of building land made possible by this and by the innovative flood protection model contributes to a long-term use of land that conserves resources, since unlike development on the outskirts of the city, no agricultural or natural areas are being built on for the first time. The central location of the converted areas and the mixture of work, living and leisure in one district also help to ensure that individual mobility requirements do not increase further due to decentralized living and working locations. Distances for everyday errands can usually be covered on foot. The urban development with its small block sizes offers a finely meshed network of paths for this purpose. Together with the high quality of the urban spaces, this creates what urban planners call a “city of short distances”.

In the course of the 2010 revision of the Masterplan, this locational advantage was significantly better exploited by densifying the urban design and improving the physical and social infrastructure. The fine-grained, vertical and horizontal mix of uses not only creates the conditions for social and cultural diversity and interaction, but also provides opportunities for economic and environmental synergies. For example, infrastructures such as underground parking garages are used at different times of the day by employees or residents.

With approx. 16,000 residents, HafenCity will double the housing supply in Hamburg's inner city (Altstadt, Neustadt and HafenCity) when completed. In terms of figures, each hectare of land accommodates around 118 residents and an additional 354 jobs. This density meets the growing demand for inner-city living space and workplaces, and at the same time contributes to sustainable land use. In terms of construction, this density is achieved while retaining the perimeter block development typical of major European cities with only individual high-rises. The floor space index (FSI) – i.e. the gross floor area (GFA) of all buildings within a neighborhood in relation to its land area – ranges from 3.7 to 6.1, depending on the neighborhood. The proportion of road traffic areas normally required has been reduced to 23% in HafenCity, compared with 42% in the old town between Speicherstadt and Binnenalster. This allows a large proportion of public and publicly accessible open spaces amounting to 38 %. In the Altstadt between Speicherstand and Binnenalster, this figure is only 5%. The open spaces not only have a high recreational value, they also, together with the water areas, prevent the urban space from overheating in summer. HafenCity thus achieves a high quality of compact living and working with high land use efficiency.

Mix of uses

The idea of an intensive mix of different uses, which was already laid down in the Masterplan and continued in the urban planning competitions, is the mainstay of HafenCity’s urban development. The district is characterized by a fine-grained mix of uses including working, living, education, culture, leisure, tourism and retail. The integration of housing is of particular importance for the further development of inner-city Hamburg, hitherto sparsely populated. A diverse range of housing can be found almost everywhere in HafenCity. Only in locations particularly exposed to high noise levels, especially around the Elbe bridges, has housing had to be ruled out.

This mixing of housing with other uses can be demonstrated in an exemplary manner with plot 70. Here, four different residential projects come together in a very confined space: a cooperative rental apartment building, privately financed rental apartments, privately financed condominiums, and a social housing project to promote inclusion. The ground floor areas are home to two kindergartens, community spaces for residents, a social service facility, a three-star restaurant, an Asian snack bar, a bakery, and an organ retailer. In addition, two medical practices are located in the development block. This small-scale mix promotes varied architecture and creates the functional conditions for balanced social development.

With around 45,000 jobs, HafenCity is also an important business location for the entire metropolitan region. Large corporate headquarters and branch offices have been given an attractive, inner-city location in HafenCity. The maritime sector for exaample includes the companies Kühne + Nagel, COSCO SHIPPING Lines, the shipping company Eukor and DNV-GL, a merger of the traditional Hamburg company Germanischer Lloyd with a Norwegian company. Other large companies include Gebr. Heinemann, Marquard & Bahls, the BUSS Group, Engel & Völkers and New Work (formerly XING). With Greenpeace, the Loki Schmidt Foundation and the energy company Enerparc, there is also a special sustainability connection in HafenCity's entrepreneurial community.

Start-ups, small companies with high growth potential and co-working providers are also increasingly discovering the urban qualities of HafenCity. The Finhaven fintech hub has been created in the Campustower and, with the Blockchance Campus, Hamburg has gained its first co-working space for blockchain technology. The Foodlab in Watermark Tower is a globally unique co-working space for founders from the food scene. The EDGE HafenCity office building is a fully digitalized office building that structures and supports the creative appeal of co-working through digital tools.

Knowledge and education

HafenCity also has an exceptionally high proportion of knowledge and educational institutions. These are not only attractive as employers themselves, but also ensure a better balance between family and work for parents, for example through the care they provide for children and young people. At the same time, secondary and tertiary educational institutions provide the companies based in HafenCity with a first-class potential pool of interns, student assistants and graduates.

In addition to HafenCity University (HCU), various private universities have based themselves in HafenCity: Kühne Logistics University (KLU), Medical School Hamburg (MSH), the International School of Management (ISM), and the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. Other educational institutions, such as the prevention center for the BGW and the VBG, two of the largest employers’ liability insurance associations in Germany, are also planned by the Elbe bridges. In addition to Katharinenschule, which has been established in HafenCity for years and attracts pupils not only from HafenCity itself but also from neighboring areas, there will be another primary school in future, as well as the HafenCity school campus with two secondary schools at Lohsepark.



Central, diverse and ground-breakingEast of Magdeburger Hafen, a very disparate quarter is coming to life, with many trailblazing buildings and uses

Urban development


In various areas HafenCity is making big contributions to sustainability

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