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Hamburg goes global.

'When at night my thoughts turn to Germany there is no chance of sleep ...' Nachtgedanken, Heinrich Heine

What would the poet Heinrich Heine, whose death 150 years ago is commemorated this year, have thought of Hamburg today? His ambivalent attitude to the city in which he failed to become a banker or businessman under his uncle's tutelage might have been tempered by the city's increasingly global outlook and international population. Former Chinese colonial connections are being resuscitated by sponsored cultural exchanges for mutual trade advantages and Hamburg, as Europe's second largest container terminal, is now twinned with Shanghai, China's biggest container port. Germany is experiencing a boom in exports, so while the national purse may be empty, Hamburg's export businesses are thriving.

The city's elite has always been importers-exporters, shipbuilders and agents, and romantically idealised fishermen and sailors. The infamous Reeperbahn for recreational shore leave was built on a site originally used for braiding ships' ropes, but modern architecture has embraced even this aspect of popular entertainment with an Erotic Museum designed by Jan Stormer. And while Hamburg describes its port as 'Gateway to the World', visitors are more likely nowadays to arrive at Fuhlsbuttel Airport terminals 1 and 2 (1993 and 2005). Both were designed by von Gerkan, Marg & Partner (GMP) the pre-eminent Hamburg practice, now expanding beyond Germany to build in China.

The city's architecture and economy are inextricably linked and their mutual success is founded on water. This was the impetus for the 2000 HafenCity masterplan which deregulated the Speicherstadt, the customs warehouse island in the Elbe, to bring river and city together again with the Boiler House (by GMP), remodelled as an information centre. The first completed waterfront building was for IT company SAP (2002, Spengler Wiescholek). Further west, the Stadtlagerhaus luxury lofts (2001, Jan Stormer) lie next to the decommissioned fish market hall. In 2004 Sandtor Quay played host to a string of individual projects: Ocean's End (Boge Lindner + Schild), H2O (Spengler Wiescholek), Dock 4 (Schweger + Partner), China Shipping (Bothe Richter Teherani), Wolbern Bank (Jan Stormer), and Polder (Bendfeldt Schroder Franke). At least the project names live up to the location. David Chipperfield and Christoph Ingenhoven are also represented in this row of uniform-height cubes, placed like parading soldiers on a podium-dyke. Though each design might have its merits, the ensemble is only lifted out of mediocrity by the Barcelona flair EMBT have brought to a contoured dockside piazza.

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Eventually, HafenCity's 100 usable hectares will boast 5500 apartments, 40 000 workplaces and 9750 metres of redesigned quays, all intersected by yacht marinas. The crowning glory will be Herzog & de Meuron's Elbphilharmonie in its glass tent poised on top of a massive 1960s brick warehouse (AR September 2004). This spectacular climax to Dalmann Quay owes more to a private developer, Genius Loci, than Hamburg's city fathers, who managed to delay construction by insisting on taking control. Such a high profile project still needs private patronage to be realised.

On the waterfronts

The latest 'water city' is the Uberseequartier, an eight hectare eastern extension of HafenCity centred on the Magdeburger Harbour. Citizens are being promised Mega-Mall shopping, a Mediterranean atmosphere (rare in these northern latitudes), and a new casino a la Monaco. Star hotels and a new cruise ship terminal are intended to boost and sustain tourism. Designs by Erick van Egeraat already exist for twin towers and a dramatic free-standing roof flying over the historic River and Harbour Administration Building. Rem Koolhaas is to provide a [euro]50 million Science Centre. Surprisingly, in supposedly cash-strapped Germany, this will be on site in 2007 and completed in 2011, with a new underground line linking old and new centres.

This concentration of architectural attention north of the Elbe has led to a predictable gnashing of teeth on the poorer southern banks. In an act of appeasement, Jorn Walter's Hamburg Building Department has conceived Sprung Uber Die Elbe (Jump over the Elbe), an intellectual construct to include the immigrant and ex-worker enclaves in Wilhelmsburg and the smaller Harburg harbour to the south. Over the last five years, private investors have spearheaded Harburg's renaissance among post-industrial archaeological remains, drawbridges, canals, warehouses and older half-timbered houses.

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Landmark complexes such as the Channel Tower (Bernhard Winking), Channel 1-4 (Streb + Partner), Das Silo (von Bassewitz Limbrock), offices in a former palm oil factory (Schweger + Partner) and a remodelling of the Veritas shipping examiners' offices have created a fashionable new office community with attendant chi-chi restaurants. Harburg has also held international planning competitions for two other harbour sites (on a former train goods yard and former citadel), but a stagnating economy has contrived to weaken interest. Matters are not improved when innovative ideas by EMBT or others, are passed over for more turgid designs, because planners think private investors will find them easier. The best building in Harburg Harbour is still the publicly financed Harbour Police Station (Schafer Agather Scheel, AR October 2003). The government and business heart of Hamburg wraps itself like an onion around the watery core of the Alster. When Napoleon besieged Hamburg in the early nineteenth century, the lake was created to supply fresh water. Later, its scenic charm, canals, ferry lines, yachting and rowing clubhouses, made it the sought after address for Hapag Lloyd, Atlantic and Four Seasons Hotels, and villas with water rights. The Jungfernstieg promenade, where the local glitterati steps out to be seen shopping or eating, is at present being gentrified by WES landscape architects to create more generous widths of granite and artistically floodlit trees, leading down to a more accessible lakeside.

Shaping the city

Among the most prominent, home grown, city shapers are Bothe Richter Teherani (BRT), GMP, Schweger + Partner, and Jan Stormer. BRT's recently completed Dockland office project is a five storey parallelogram leaning out over water, which is hard to miss from any point on the river and their nearby Elbberg Campus is a puzzle of sleek stacked offices climbing up a steep cliff, which often appears in TV dramas. The last BRT controversy centred on their Europa Passages, a multi-level shopping wedge now in construction, which required the demolition of stone facades on Ballindamm. Yet the days when local architects could be assured of building in their own city are long gone. Investors are now inviting foreign names to the party, including Massimiliano Fuksas for Admiralitat Strasse and Axel Springer Platz (2003), Norman Foster for the Multimedia Centre TV studios (1999) and Swiss practice Atelier 5 for upmarket apartments, as well as the aformentioned Koolhaas, van Egeraat and Herzog & de Meuron. Non Hamburg-based Germans are also muscling in and winning competitions. O. M. Ungers bequeathed a predictably square Art Museum extension and Behnisch Architects are just completing the 'House within a House' inside the Chamber of Commerce, while Ingenhoven Architects are virtually doubling the Trade Exhibition Centre with a new piazza and boulevard around the existing TV Tower.

Soon 40 per cent of Germans will have immigrant family histories and this is becoming apparent in practice profiles, negating the myth of homogeneity jealously guarded by male, tweed wearing Hanseatic architects. Firms such as Akyol Gullotta Kamps, blauraum, or Fusi & Ammann, are surviving an economic depression with competition entries and small projects, supplemented by lecturing posts. With diversity and youth struggling to make its mark, it's not surprising that exuberant architectural activities sometimes win through. Since 1994, Hamburg's Architecture Summer Triennial festival (AR July 2003) has become a widely publicised shopfront for ideas. The programme for 2006 will have 280 happenings over five months and a new event in September, 'China Week', to strengthen Sino-Hanseatic ties.

This year also sees a shake up in the educational system that underpins Hamburg's building competence. Three architecture, planning and engineering schools in the Fine Arts School (HfbK), Technical University (TUHH), and School of Applied Sciences (HAW), are being amalgamated in a new and as yet unbuilt HafenCity University (HCU). In contrast to the current practice of awarding diplomas after indeterminate study periods, the HCU will strictly control intake and length of courses leading to degrees. Even more surprising is that the new director is an outsider (and occasional AR contributor) Steven Spier, from Strathclyde University School of Architecture. This decision has ruffled some professorial feathers, but protests have been to no avail. Will this reduce the variety and integrity of local architecture or merely bring Hamburg into line with the reality of global practice?

It took the Eastern European revolution of 1989 to catapult Hamburg out of its provincialism. Ever since then it has been reinventing itself as a multi-cultural patchwork of architectural and urban experiences. Traditionalists or xenophobics may not approve, but Heinrich Heine probably would have felt at home.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:urbanism
Author:Dawson, Layla
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1458
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