Wednesday, September 1, 2010

HafenCity: A Case Study on Future-Adaptive Urban Development

Cities need to plan for the future now by developing infrastructure and communities that make them resilient, rugged and adaptable to planetary changes. Coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to increased flooding from larger storm surges and sea level rise. And, as Bruce Stutz noted last year, "adapting to this reality has become a key part of future planning for London, Rotterdam, St. Petersburg, Tokyo, and Seattle, as well as low-lying cities across Asia" and New York City. Here's another waterfront city that is taking future-adaptive urban planning seriously: HafenCity.

HafenCity is marked by the red dot adjacent to Hamburg, Germany and along the river Elbe. | (Image captured with Bing Maps)
HafenCity, or Harbor City, is a new city quarter under development in the old harbor of Hamburg, along the river Elbe. It is one of the largest inner-city rebuilding projects in Europe and has been in development for over ten years already, with completion expected around 2020-2030. I'm not breaking any news here, yet I somehow had not heard of this development until I read this recent interview with Kristina Hill in which she lays out three design strategies for responding to climate change - protect, renew, and re-tool - and says 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 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.
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.


Physical model of HafenCity looking east, with the new buildings in the development modeled in a light wood tone. Hamburg proper is connected to HafenCity by bridges to the north, and is primarily modeled in white. The old harbor warehouse district, Speicherstadt, runs east to west between Hamburg and the new HafenCity development to the south, and is primarily modeled in the darker wood tones. The new iconic concert hall, Elbphilharmonie, is visible as a translucent form above a darker wood base on the far right, and at the end of the pier. | (Image courtesy of Flickr/m.prinkle)

This diagram shows what parts of the HafenCity development have already been completed or are under construction, and which sites have been allocated or are ready for allocation. | (Image captured from page 2 of the PDF "HafenCity Hamburg Projects March 2010: Insights into Current Developments")

A diagram of the districts in HafenCity. | (Image captured from page 7 of the PDF "HafenCity Hamburg Projects March 2010: Insights into Current Developments"; titles enlarged to be readable here)

FLOOD PROTECTION >>> 5 Levels of Public Space
HafenCity and Speicherstadt lie to the south of the main Hamburg dike and are therefore susceptible to flooding. Rather than build new dikes, the developers incorporated other flood resilient and adaptive infrastructure into the actual construction of the roads, buildings and public spaces with the intention of both controlling flood waters and providing residents with waterfront access:
The intensive reciprocal interaction between land and water can be regarded as unique, for HafenCity will not be surrounded by dikes, nor cut off from the water. With the exception of the quays and promenades, the total area, i.e. streets, parks and development sites will be raised to 7.5 to 8 meters above sea level. This creates a new, characteristic topography, also maintaining access to the water and emphasizing its typical port atmosphere. ("HafenCity Hamburg Projects March 2010: Insights into Current Developments" [PDF], page 5)
Essentially, HafenCity has five occupiable public levels:
On the water: Floating docks are accessible at sea level, which changes twice daily:

The pontoons of the Traditional Ship Harbor provide a...level of urban perception which rises and falls with the tide. Since the water level of the River Elbe varies twice daily by more than 3 meters, depending on the ebb and flow of the tide, perception of the quarter is constantly changing. The relationship here between water level, quay walls and edges, pontoons, watercraft and buildings is continuously shifting.

This photo shows the Traditional Ship Harbor at Sandtorhafen. | (Photo: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

Waterfront Promenades: Embankment promenades for walking and cycling are at 4 to 5.5 meters above sea level.

This photo shows a waterfront promenade in the Dalmannkai district. | (Photo: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

This photo shows a waterfront promenade and the Vasco da Gama Plaza in the Dalmannkai district. These pathways are popular routes for bikers and walkers, and bring people right to the waters edge. | (Photo: Daniel Barthmann; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

This photo shows a waterfront promenade in the Dalmannkai district with the higher street level and building plinths visible in the background. | (Photo: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

Terraces: The Magellan and Marco Polo Terraces provide the largest public squares in the city, and creatively transition the public thoroughfares from the waterfront promenades to the street level.

Panorama of the Magellan Terraces. | (Photo by Roland Halbe; via Enric Miralles - Benedetta Tagliabue | EMBT Architects)

Aerial view of the Marco Polo Terraces looking north. The terraces face west towards the evening sun and descend in gradual steps to the water. | (Photo: T. C. Kraus; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

Streets: All streets (and buildings) are built on artificially raised, flood-protected bases at around 7.5 to 8 meters above sea level.

This photo of a promenade in Dalmannkai shows all levels of public space, from water, to waterfront, to street level; it is clear how much higher the street level is than even the waterfront. A section of the raised plinth on which the streets and buildings sit is visible as a decorated wall in the mid-ground of this photo. | (Photo: T. C. Kraus; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

The flood-protected base of the Headquarters of Germanischer Lloyd building, in the Brooktorhai district, stands out dramatically in the water. | (Image via gmp-architekten)

Above the streets: In addition to the street level, there are higher elevations of occupiable space, some public and some private. A new public plaza is being built at 37 meters above sea level as part of the new Elbphilharmonie.

This rendering shows the design of the new concert hall, Elbphilharmonie, with a public plaza occupying the space between the old Warehouse A structure and new glass building above. | (Rendering: © Herzog & de Meuron; via Elbphilharmonie website)

The 'above the streets' level of the private realm is also characterized by residential units, which all start at one-story above street level.

This photo shows residential units overhanging a waterfront promenade in Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai. The building plinth wall is visible on the left; street level and the first floor of the buildings start at the top of the white portion of the wall. Residential units begin one-story above street level, and here, appear over two-stories above the waterfront promenade. | (via Flickr/iPhotography)

LEVEL CHANGES: Water-to-Street with Terraces, Old-to-New with Bridges and Stairs;
Because HafenCity has so many different levels of public space there are many interesting points of interaction between levels. In HafenCity quarter proper, the terraces are the sites of the most dramatic places of transition. They link the waterfront to the streets above; stepping up from sea level (0 m), to promenade level (4.5 m) to street level (7.5 m).

A view of the Magellan Terraces in Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai. | (Photo: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH)

Another dramatic point of level change occurs between the old historic district of Speicherstadt and HafenCity along Am Sandtorkai street. While all the streets in HafenCity that are south of Am Sandtorkai are raised at 7.5 to 8 meters above sea level, Am Sandtorkai remains at its historic level. In consequence, bridges and stairs are necessary to navigate these level changes.

Photo shows the dramatic difference in street levels between Speicherstadt and HafenCity proper. | (via Flickr/

Birds eye photo looking west up Am Sandtorkai | (Photo via Bing Maps)

These photos show the Am Sandtorkai street that runs between the old Speicherstadt district (right) and the new Am Sandtorkai district (left). The street itself is at the historic level of the Speicherstadt, but the new new buildings in Am Sandtorkai are elevated on flood-secure plinths. The top image shows the street in dry conditions and the lower image shows it in a flood. | (Top image captured from page 13 of the PDF "HafenCity Hamburg Projects March 2010: Insights into Current Developments." Lower image via HafenCity Hamburg; © ELBE&FLUT)

Another photo of Am Sandtorkai street during a flood. The doors of the "flood gates" to the lower levels of the buildings, where much of the parking garages are located, are visible at the base of each building. | (via Miniatur Wunderland)

The bridges and stairs along Kibbelstegbrucke are a particularly striking example of how Speicherstadt and HafenCity come together.

Kibbelstegbrucke | (Birds eye photo from the east, looking west via Bing Maps)

Bridge and stairs on Kibbelstegbrucke | (via Flickr/Eichental)

The Kibbelsteg bridges are also an integral part of the safety infrastructure of HafenCity. As the bridge engineers note:
In order to make the new areas of the HafenCity accessible to fire protection and first aid services, there is a need for a new network of pathways at 7.5 m above sea level. The Kibbelsteg bridges connect this network to the high tide protected areas of the inner city, crossing the Zollkanal, the Brooksfleet, and the “Am Sandtorkai“ street.

Kibbelsteg Bridge | (Image captured from page 48 of the PDF "HafenCity Hamburg Projects March 2010: Insights into Current Developments")

HafenCity reveals one approach to tackling future-adaptive urban development. The raised roadways and buildings, water resilient surfaces, floating waterfront promenades, terraced landscapes and bridges all work together as important infrastructure and create an architecturally vibrant district that connects residents to the waterfront -- while also making the whole area resilient in the face of more frequent flooding.
In addition to its water adaptive design strategies, HafenCity exemplifies many other sustainable urban planning ideas. It is dense, walkable, bikeable, served by public transit, and full of multi-use buildings and public spaces. Much of the land was formerly brownfields and has now been cleaned and developed. Additionally, the historic character of the area is honored: many buildings in the neighboring Speicherstadt area have been refurbished (see the International Maritime Museum for one example); and some buildings in HafenCity proper, like the new concert hall, adaptively reuse existing buildings.
I'm very excited to learn more about this project and I'd welcome reader feedback from any of you who've visited (or even live there!). Is the project as great as it seems?
Did anyone attend the recent "Watercities in Transition" conference where HafenCity was presented as an example of flood resistant urban design? Please let me know what you learned in the comments below!
Note to local Seattlites: If you're interested in waterfront design, mark your calendars for Wednesday, September 15! The four shortlisted teams working on designs for reshaping Seattle's waterfront will present their designs to the public that evening from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Benaroya Hall.
Other 'sea-level rise' urban design projects:
Selection of HafenCity websites:
Architects, Landscape Architects, and Engineers of HafenCity:
In case you missed them in the post above, here are most of the links I embedded in the text; in order of appearance:
Related stories in the Worldchanging archives:
  • The Lessons of Katrina: Global Warming Adaptation is a Cruel Euphemism and Prevention is Far, Far Cheaper | Joe Romm, 31 Aug 09:
    If we won’t adapt to the realities of having one city below sea level in hurricane alley, what are the chances we are going to adapt to the realities of having all our great Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities at risk for the same fate as New Orleans — since sea level from climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level? And just how do you adapt to sea levels rising 6 to 12 inches a decade for centuries, which is the fate we risk by 2100 if we don’t reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends soon. Climate change driven by humans GHGs is already happening much faster than past climate change from natural causes — and it is accelerating.
  • Seven Meters | Jamais Cascio, 22 Mar 06:
    Flood Maps mashes up NASA elevation data and Google Maps, and offers a visualization of the effects of a single meter increase all the way to a 14 meter rise. The default increase of seven meters -- about 23 feet for those who avoid the whole metric thing -- is the amount the world's oceans will rise once Greenland's glacial ice pack melts completely. This melting is already underway, and is happening with startling speed.
  • Information is Beautiful: When Sea Levels Attack | David McCandless / The Guardian, 23 Feb 10: this diagram, I've tried to sum up all the current research on sea level rises. What will happen, when it will happen, and where the sea water is coming from.
  • Environmental Restoration in the Age of Climate Change | Alex Steffen, 31 Mar 06:
    If we're going to bring Puget Sound back to health, we need to bring those shorelines back to health. To do that, People for Puget Sound, the Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land have teamed up to announce the Alliance for Puget Sound Shorelines, an effort to raise $80 million over the next three years to "restore and protect Puget Sound's ecologically rich shorelines and ensure they're available for people to enjoy for generations to come." This is good work. The challenge, though, is that the shorelines themselves are becoming moving targets. Already, global warming is changing Puget Sound, causing the water to warm and the sea to rise. Predictions for the future are even more alarming. "Business-as-usual will yield warming of 6 to 9 degrees F by the end of the century and...sea level will rise. The last time it was 5 degrees F warmer than now sea level was at least 80 feet higher," says James Hansen, NASA's chief climate scientist. Other studies suggest that without drastic action, we may have already committed ourselves to as much as a twenty feet of sea-level rise. Studies suggest that melting ice sheets alone are already causing the sea to rise at about a millimeter a year.
  • Urban Resilience for Dummies, Part 2: Failing the Milk Test | Warren Karlenzig, 10 Mar 10:
    We can no longer manage and develop our communities with no regard for the limits of natural resources and ecological systems that provide our most basic needs. A shining alternative is metropolitan areas that have begun to plan for the future by building their resilience with economic, energy, and environmental uncertainty in mind: top U.S. metro locations include Portland, Oregon, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Denver, and suburbs such as Davis, California and Alexandria, Virginia. These communities are employing some of the following key strategies that underpin resilient urbanism:
  • The Future of Cities and Transportation: Learning from the Parable of the Horse | Amanda Reed, 2 Aug 10:
    "Bus rapid transit systems and "complete streets" are great. But to design urban transportation systems that are truly sustainable, we have to think much further ahead." So writes Mathias Crawford at the beginning of his new post up at GOOD titled "The Future of Cities and Transportation," in which he explores how to plan future cities that both address current needs and are flexible enough to adapt to changing technologies and behaviors. As an example of the dilemma urban planners face, he shares the parable of the horse...