WSUD in HafenCity: ‘Future-Adaptive Urban Development’

A picture (or a series of pictures) can tell so much more than words.

Here is a link to a stunning example of water sensitive – urban – design: Worldchanging: Bright Green: HafenCity: A Case Study on Future-Adaptive Urban Development.

warehouses on water

Amanda Reed researched the HafenCity story and posted her ‘visual case study’ on 31 August 2010.

HafenCity, or Harbor City, sits on the river Elbe, in old Hamburg Harbour. This is a city area prone to flooding – and the key for this, one of the largest inner-city rebuilding projects in Europe – is that the project anticipates and to an extent, facilitates, flooding. This is a 157-hectare city district that will eventually see the creation of more than two million square meters of usable building space – or gross floor area (GFA) – and ‘versitile and attractive open spaces’.

So far, this WSUD project has been ten years in the making,  with a 2020, or even 2030, completion date. I encourage you to take a look at this case study, and think about how your communities could adapt some of the more simple and affordable approaches and lessons from it, if the more large scale engineering feats seem beyond reach of current resources. Seeing water sensitive approaches in action – seeing cities and towns grow more beautiful, more livable, more viable, more exciting – can be a source of inspiration for thinking and action for water sensitive change in our own communities.

With that in mind, here’s an extract from Amanda’s story that I’ve adapted: As Amanda says, she’s ‘not breaking any news here’. Yet she (and much of the rest of the world, I suspect) hadn’t heard of this development until this interview with Kristina Hill, describing three design strategies for responding to climate change – protect, renew and re-tool. Kristina contends that the ‘protect category of adaptive action is exemplified by the HafenCity development’

Hamburg…will allow flooding, but designed a major new part of the city to be resilient to high water, with water-proof parking garages, a network of emergency pedestrian walkways 20 feet (4.5 metres) above the street, and no residential units at ground level. Even the parks in this new Harbor City district are designed to withstand battering by waves and storm surge, either by floating as the waters rise, or by incorporating lots of hard surfaces that only need to be washed off when the waters recede.       Kristina Hill

Magellan Terraces, HafenCity. Image by ELBE&FLUT Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Amanda continues the story…

Intriguing! I immediately started scanning the net to learn more. Since HafenCity is such a large and long standing development project – it features building, bridge, and landscape designs from over 700 architects, including powerhouse names like Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, and Behnisch – it was easy to find well illustrated articles that discuss the development’s architectural projects and overall sustainability features, but coverage of its water adaptation design strategies, with illustrative images, was sparse. This post is an attempt to remedy that lack. By looking through the development’s official website, scouring Flickr, and exploring a selection of the architecture, landscape architecture and engineering firms’ websites, I think I’ve been able to pull together a serviceable attempt at a visual case study of HafenCity’s future-adaptive urban design strategies. Amanda – you’ve done much more than a ‘servicable’ job in pulling together the essential elements of this case-study!

For those of you interested in the detail, see what’s planned for the next stage of HafenCity’s development, and the necessary changes that have emerged, here:

See the timeline for the project here – starting December 1996 with Hamburg architect, Professor Volkwin Marg’s, initial study and presentation on redeveloping the inner city fringes of the port. Just five months later, the city’s first Mayor, Henning Voscherau, presented the ambitious HafenCity Vision to regain the waterfront for people.

And here’s a piece from HCH about the funding model for the project. HCH is tasked with providing integrated management for the city. On top of around EUR 800m expected to be generated from land sales, private investment in the project has reached EUR 5.5bn.  Retrieved 2 September 2010 from :

HafenCity Hamburg GmbH or HCH provides integrated management to match the complex requirements of HafenCity as a whole. HCH’s primary functions are to make available, develop, market and sell pieces of land. It is also responsible for communication, relations with the public, event management, publicity and promotion of the arts locally. Processing of zoning plans and construction documentation is concentrated in the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment (BSU), since HafenCity has been classed as a so-called priority area since 2006. For the public built environment, HCH takes on the role of developer itself: it develops infrastructure for the district (e.g. flood-secure roads and bridges) and lays out squares, parks, sport and play areas. HCH guarantees the quality of development in the district by taking on wider controlling functions, such as urban planning and architectural competitions, which it coordinates with the Ministry for Urban Development & Environment and the developers concerned. HCH is owned 100 per cent by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and is the trustee of its ‘city and port’ fund under public law: almost 100 per cent of land inthe HafenCity project area not yet sold is placed in this special fund. HCH finances its activities through the sale of such pieces of land. HafenCity-GmbH.
Residences overhang a promenade in Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai, HafenCity. Image from Flickr

Am I being overly simplistic when I imagine we could adopt elements of HafenCity’s design into Wellington’s or Porirua’s urban planning? The Megan Wraight designed multifaceted stormwater system that can be seen in action in the harbour area near Te Papa and Wellington’s Oriental Bay – is a starting point – with clever and visually appealing integration of urban form with function. Check out the Waitangi Park story and pictures here.

Waitangi Park Wellington Aotearoa NZ - Indigenous vegetation - Image via WA landscape architectsMore and more, in Aotearoa, we are doing water sensitive design as if we mean it. Great examples of ‘good design that works’ are out there – like HafenCity – like Doug Avery’s Bonaveree dryland farm (see earlier post) and Megan’s waterfront stormwater design – inspiring us to take the leap and do more to make our places more livable, affordable, more friendly and safe – securing our future.

Stories inspire designlinks to inspiring water stories are appreciated.

Related links

Julian Raxworthy – on Megan Wraight’s Taranaki Wharf design project: The project is an infrastructure scheme drawn from the wharf language but not pretentiously so. Great robust detail and a range of nice mini project inserts/theme gardens set into this infrastructure, such as a nice rock pool garden with indigenous plants and a place to get under the wharf and be amongst the structure. Its simply good landscape architecture I would say, with great judgment. – Julian Raxworthy, 3 April 2012

Grasbrook Hafencity via flckr T Mandt

About robynmmoore

Anything to do with people and the environment and I'm interested! I have been writing and commenting about education, the environment and other community-related matters since 2006. I'm a compulsive researcher. In 2009, I finished a thesis on Kapiti's water issues and am still researching outcomes there. This website and the work I do as a trustee for the Whitireia Foundation are part of my aspiration to contribute to 'shaping more sustainable communities'...also the title of my thesis. Look it up - it's free at
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1 Response to WSUD in HafenCity: ‘Future-Adaptive Urban Development’

  1. Damlka says:

    Viel gepostet. Das ist unverwechselbar. Auch die anderen Postings sind impressive. Ihr Fan.

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