Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Cold" architecture beginning to warm up

HAMBURG/CITYSCAPE IN CHANGE. After some initial criticism, architecture in Hamburg’s giant urban development project HafenCity is beginning to get positive headlines.
The new German headquarters for Unilever, a Dutch-British food and personal-care multinational, was the office-category winner at the World Architecture Festival recently. The unusual office building, designed by German architects Behnisch, sits right on the river Elbe and is expected to be one of the signature buildings of HafenCity.
Unileverhaus (left), as the building is called, is right next to the site of the future cruise terminal, which will be a center of activity in this new part of Hamburg. On the other side stands Marco-Polo-Tower, also designed by Behnisch Architekten, an irregularly shaped residential tower that will house some of the most exclusive apartments in HafenCity.
The many visitors who come to the site have been able to follow progress in the construction of these two buildings from a special view point nearby (below right).
Unileverhaus is wrapped in a special protective membrane to shield it from strong harbour winds and inclement weather. At first this might be mistaken for a part of the on-going construction, but at a closer look you realize that the membrane is an important part of the unique character of the building.
Unileverhaus has also been hailed for its airy and bright interior, with a central atrium that is open to the public and gives access to a terrace with a view of the huge port.
This part of HafenCity is called Strandkai and is nearing completion.
The first parts of HafenCity that were completed, Am Sandtorkai and Dalmannkai with mostly residential buildings, received early criticism for what was seen as boring and cold architecture.
A year ago, influential Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung complained that there were few traces of the visionary thinking that was supposed to put its stamp on HafenCity’s architecture. The paper talked of a “dictatorship of right angles” when it described what it thought was factory-style apartment buildings.
Most houses in this first part of HafenCity resemble large cubes sitting on the water’s edge. There are exceptions, like the soft shapes of “The Oval” (below right) on Dalmannkai, but most buildings fall under the description by Süddeutsche Zeitung (below left).
The criticism will probably soften as the construction of HafenCity progresses. A few years from now all eyes will be on the spectacular Elbphilarmonie concert hall that I wrote about in the previous report, and a number of other buildings under construction.
Next year two of the more noteworthy office buildings, the new headquarters for the Spiegel media group and the neighbouring Ericus Contor, are expected to be completed. Both are designed by Danish architects Henning Larsen.
Close to 750 architectural firms from all over the world have been participating in competitions, workshops and in realising buildings and public spaces in HafenCity since work began in 1999.
HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, the city-owned company that runs the project, keeps development in line with the overall ambitions for HafenCity. No speculation in property has been allowed. Investors and developers go through an initial 12-month tendering phase, where plans are scrutinized, before the final deal is signed.
“This model has worked out very well. Investors buy their site only when plans are optimal and the city has control over the process. It’s a flexible process, and I think there have only been two projects that have not come through”, says Susanne Bühler, head of communications at HafenCity Hamburg GmbH.
HafenCity is a huge urban development, the largest on-going in Europe, but its components are kept relatively small-scale. No single developer or investor is allowed to be too dominant.
Construction is now under way in Überseequartier in the center of HafenCity. This part of the project will be a showcase for the mixed cityscape planners aimed for in HafenCity. Residential buildings, hotels, offices and retail in street-level stores will guarantee a vibrant urban atmosphere in these blocks, planners hope. Many visitors are expected to come to a future Rem Koolhaas-designed Science Center.
This is also where the new subway-line U4 will have its main station in HafenCity.
Überseequartier is also an example where the city has drawn the line for some of the plans of developers.
“There were tough negotiations for the development of Überseequartier. One of the issues was plans for a shopping mall. But we don’t want that, it doesn’t fit into the urban development idea for HafenCity”, says Susanne Bühler.
The development of HafenCity will work its way eastwards until it finally reaches what will be called Chicago Square some time around 2020-25.
With inspiration from Hamburg’s sister city Chicago, the HafenCity project will end here with a number of high rises. Ideas for this new Hamburg skyline have already been proposed by a group of invited architects – from Chicago, of course.

This is the third in a series of reports on the HafenCity urban development project in Hamburg, Germany.


Copyright: Henning Larsen Architects/HafenCity Hamburg GmbH
The new headquarters for the Spiegel media group will be a signature building.


Copyright: ELBE & FLUT/HafenCity Hamburg GmbH
A model of Überseequartier, representing the idea of urban life in HafenCity.


Copyright: Michael Behrendt/Überseequartier Beteiligungs GmbH
The Überseequartier part of HafenCity is planned to be a vibrant urban scene.


Copyright: Gärtner & Christ/HafenCity Hamburg GmbH
Rem Koolhaas designed plans for the Science Center, a future attraction in HafenCity.

Norway plans to curb free parking

TRANSPORTATION. The Norwegian government, lead by the Social Democrats, is working on plans to stop all forms of free parking for cars in cities, reports daily Aftenposten in Oslo. The measure is aimed at curbing city-traffic.
Three government departments are working on the proposal, looking at different ways of changing the law. One alternative would be that owners of private parking lots are allowed to keep the parking fees they would have to charge. Another alternative would be that city authorities takes the money and use it to improve public transportation.
If the proposal becomes law, it would mean an end to free parking at shopping malls, offices and public parking lots. The capital Oslo has some 120,000 free parking spaces today, where fees would have to be introduced if the government has its way.
Supporters of the measure hopes that it will not only curb traffic, but also give new life to city street shopping that can be reached by public transportation.
Norway has been a leader in introducing congestion charges for driving in city centres. Oslo introduced its system of congestion charges more than 20 years ago.