design sustainability

HafenCity: A city built for rising seas

Hamburg is currently the site of one of Europe’s biggest regeneration projects. A large area of redundant warehousing and port facilities is being turned into housing and office space, creating a new downtown quarter called HafenCity. It is being built to the highest environmental standards across architecture and transport.

For a start, all developments have to meet the Gold Standard on sustainable construction. Interestingly, this was decided before there was a gold standard to aim for, as Germany didn’t have a certification programme for sustainable building at the time. HafenCity was a big enough scheme to make it worth developing a scheme from scratch, the HafenCity Ecolabel, with gold being roughly equivalent to LEED’s Platinum. Remarkably, the area gets 92% of its energy from renewable sources, with fossil fuels just kicking in during cold snaps.

Großstädtisch und maritim zugleich: Die Stimmung im ersten Quartier der HafenCity wird durch vielfältige Einflüsse geprägt%L%Metropolitan but also maritime: the atmosphere in HafenCity’s first neighborhood stems from a variety of influences

Sustainable transportation is also a priority, and the best starting point is to reduce the need for motorised transport in first the place. HafenCity is planned with walkability in mind, with promenades, open spaces, and footbridges across the water. Walking or cycling is an attractive and convenient option, and hydrogen buses are another alternative. Consequently, only 25% of journeys in the area are by car.

Most importantly though, the area has planned ahead for rising sea levels. The district lies outside the dike that protects the rest of Hamburg, and much of it is prone to seasonal flooding. All new buildings have to be built on flood-proof plinths that elevate them above the potential high water line. (Since these plinths can be hollow, many of them serve as car parks, which means that the streets are clear of parked cars.) All new roads are elevated too.

One of the reasons that the area is popular for housing is that there are extensive waterfronts. Building flood proofs walls all along the water’s edge would have been very expensive and would have ruined the atmosphere for walkers. Instead, waterfront retail and restaurants are protected by solid flood doors that can be closed when the tide rises.

For more examples of this kind of forward thinking development, see China’s ‘sponge cities’ or New York’s ‘The Big U’.


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