Zaha Hadid Architects carves out riverside promenade and flood barrier for Hamburg

Zaha Hadid Architects carves out riverside promenade and flood barrier for Hamburg

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is behind an upgrade of the Elbe River promenade and flood barrier at Niederhafen in Hamburg. The design combines much-needed modernisation and reinforcement of the city’s flood protection system with social space for the city, and new urban connections between different neighbourhoods.

Stretching between St. Pauli Landungsbrücken and Baumwall at Niederhafen, the walkway clad in dark, anthracite-coloured granite ebbs and flows, yet never drifts below 10m in width ensuring plenty of space for all types of activity from jogging, performing or setting up food stalls.

Zaha Hadid Hamburg Promenade aerial view

Now full of life, it’s easy to forget that the first aim of the promenade is its role as a flood barrier. Hamburg suffered dramatic storm surge floods in 1962 that took the lives of 315 people as well as destroying the homes of 60,000 residents. In response to this, flood barriers reaching 7.2m above sea level were built. However, in 2006 the city realised that this aging structure was overburdened and needed significant reinforcement, and launched a competition.

The new design was determined by modern analysis of Hamburg’s flooding characteristics done with hydrology and computer simulations providing much better accuracy. Carefully engineered to protect the city it rises 8.6m above sea level in the eastern section, it rises at 8.9m in the western section to protect the city from winter storm surges and extreme high tides.

Precise engineering is at the barriers core, yet the architects playfully formed the promenade around its key function, scooping out and adding where they could to create a dynamic riverside experience. At one point, a three-storey restaurant has been carved out, with a cantilevering top floor that treats diners to a panoramic River Elbe experience.

The promenade swells to the west looking downstream to the port, and compresses to the east, leading visitors to the water’s edge – all the while oscillating as you follow it, varying in width to open up wide amphitheatre-style steps in light grey granite both sides of the route. Walking along the street the urban journey is amplified by the new promenade; a cycle path runs parallel, the cut-outs from the steps reveal glimpses of the masts and superstructures of ships on the river, and space for shops and public utilities make sure no useful urban space is wasted. §

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