HafenCity Was Designed To Be Flood Proof

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Originally published on the ECOreport

Sea levels have been rising 0.14 inches (3.5 millimeters) per year since the early 1990s, and in the decades to come, many of the world’s coastal cities will be threatened. Hamburg’s new city core responded to this challenge with a relatively inexpensive solution, HafenCity is designed to be flood proof.


The Vision For HafenCity

According to Professor Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, there is not anything like this elsewhere in Europe. Prior to the 1990s, this was a harbor/industrial area, and only six buildings remain from that era. People used to move out to the suburbs. HafenCity is the rebirth of a city center,  “a new downtown” that contains an intricate network of offices, public spaces, commercial spaces, around 2,000 inhabitants and 10.5 kilometers of publicly accessible quayside promenades.

StadtRad HafenCity / city bike HafenCity 2

HafenCity is one of the most environmentally conscious communities in the world. Every would-be developer has to sign an agreement saying they will build to the Gold standard, the European equivalent of LEED Platinum. Buildings are energy efficient, there is a high proportion of green roofs and solar panels, and the area obtains 92% of its energy from renewable sources. (Fossil fuels are only used during peak load.)

He added, “We have a brownfield conversion that has the potential of redefining what urban mobility is.”


Only about 25% of HafenCity’s movements are by automobile. There are more paths and promenades than roads, and the majority of them are not close to automobile traffic. There are also subway, buses and car-sharing services for electric vehicles.

A third of the residential units in HafenCity are subsidized housing, which has been the standard in Hamburg for several years and appears to be a common practice throughout Germany.

Rental units costing Є9.60 per square meter (Є960 for a 320 square foot unit) are in the same neighborhoods as expensive penthouse condos.


HafenCity Was Designed To Be Flood Proof


One of the challenges faced was rising sea levels. HafenCity is on an island that is only 4.5 to 5 meters above sea level. Once a year, the waters already rise high enough to cover the picturesque promenade.

Susanne Bühler, Head of Communications for HafenCity said the flood only lasts “for some hours. It comes in the morning and then goes away.”

Yet Hamburg still remembers the flood of 1962, when a catastrophic flood took the lives of 347 people.


HafenCity chose a different solution. Instead of dikes, which are both very costly and would have destroyed the area’s picturesque waterfront charm, they designed their neighborhood to be “flood proof.” The first floor of every building on the promenade is dedicated to retail outlets, and exhibition spaces, that are sealed off in times of flooding.

“The solution is not complicated, you just close the door and there is someone responsible for this in every building,” said Bühler

“Only the promenades are vacated in case of flooding,” said Bruns-Berentelg.

To which Susanne Bühler, Head of Communications for HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, added “The solution is not complicated, you just close the door and there is someone responsible for this in every building.”

Buildings behind the promenade are built on “warts” (elevated mounds) 8-9 meters above mean sea level. The streets are also on this higher level and not effected by the neighborhood’s annual flood.

Bühler suggested that, as sea levels continue to rise, a number of coastal cities may adopt strategies similar to HafenCity’s.

Hochwasserschutz HafenCity / flood protection HafenCity 2

Dalmannkai / HafenCity

HafenCity und Segelboote / HafenCity and sailing boats

Photo Credits: Water and Green Technologies in Hamburg, Handout for Press Trip Nov 26th, 2015 – Courtesy Professor Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO HafenCity Hamburg GmbH; Photo of HafenCity provided by Hamburg Marketing; Professor Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, explaining the vision for HafrnCity – Roy L Hales photo;Handout for Press Trip – Courtesy Professor Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg; Some of HafenCity’s flood doors by doratagold via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Three photos provided by Hamburg Marketing

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales

2 thoughts on “HafenCity Was Designed To Be Flood Proof

  • That’s not really flood-proof. It’s flood-resistent up to the height of the retail floor. Flood levels that exceed that will leech in from the higher levels. A floating house/building would be flood-proof.

  • Looks similar to gentrification in the USA. In Hunters Point in San Francisco, the old run down projects and houses mostly inhabited by poor blacks, were destroyed and replaced with expensive condo’s and townhouses only rich google employees could afford. In addition, building multistory apartments and condo’s only leads to overcrowding. How about turning the land into a park, or permaculture garden to grow food, instead of building apartments, condo’s and townhouses so close together, that the whole former Harbor in Germany looks like another overcrowded city. The solution to cities is to stop the overcrowding, remove blighted rundown housing, and replace it with parks, or fields to grow food, as Detroit is doing, not add to congestion.

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