Sustainable Building
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White ceramic for Hamburg’s Hafencity

Alongside two other buildings, the Watermark Tower forms a kind of quarter within a quarter in Hamburg’s Hafencity. Anyone who builds for the Hanseatic city’s showpiece district will not only find a complex architectural context – but also very special building conditions.

Hamburg’s Hafencity is one of the most impressive building projects in Europe. Planning for the largest inner-city urban development project on the continent has been underway since the 1990s. A total investment of around 13 billion euros has been estimated. Planners speak of a template for other cities on the waterfront.

Right from the start, the Hanseatic city and planning officers had to make long-term decisions. A focus on sustainability was therefore inscribed in the DNA of the planning guidelines. For the collection of buildings consisting of the Watermark Tower, the Freeport residential building and the Shipyard office building, the maxim of ‘integration into the Hafencity concept’ also applied without giving up individuality. The Elbtorquartier, where the project’s building site is located, is also a very special place. The site runs along the waterfront on two sides. Directly adjacent to it is the southern Überseequartier, the heart of the entire Hafencity with a cruise ship terminal.

Relevant for the overall performance of the project: the design of the outdoor areas. © Jochen Stüber Hamburg

A quarter within a quarter

The starting point for Störmer Murphy and Partners, the architects responsible, was complex and at the same time extremely exciting. Architect Jan Störmer can nevertheless summarise the basic idea in one sentence: “Three completely different buildings form a small quarter with a homogeneous character and an independent identity through the use of radiant white ceramic as a connecting façade material and an exciting overall urban composition. The result is an ensemble of buildings consisting of a 70 m high tower, a seven-storey office building and a residential building for condominiums with a view of the harbour.

However, the unique location also posed special challenges: “Building so close to the open water and the quay walls entails very high earth and water pressures,” says project manager Michael Stöckigt of Strabag Real Estate GmbH, “at times part of the excavation pit was under water. And Ralf F. Bode, Managing Director of atmosgrad GmbH and auditor of the project, adds: “The flood protection concept and the execution of the glazing in the terp, which would also be under water at times during a storm surge, was very demanding”.

  • © Jochen Stüber Hamburg

Building on springs in the Hafencity

Another special feature: Hamburg’s underground line No. 4 runs 15 meters below the residential building: “The residents would have felt and heard the secondary airborne sound of the trains without additional and special construction measures”, says Stöckigt, “this had to be prevented. In order to keep the apartments soundproof and vibration-free, the building above the ground floor was therefore separated from the rest of the building and placed on more than 200 spring elements. These prevent the transmission of sound and vibration. “That was exciting and new – we had never planned anything like it before,” says architect Störmer. The same procedure was also used for the concert hall of the Elbphilharmonie, which is about 1.5 km away.

Despite the special requirements, the project achieved DGNB certification in gold. The highest standards of building materials in terms of environmental compatibility, a high degree of flexibility in the use of the space, plenty of light in the building and a varied design of the open spaces and outdoor areas, give the quarter within a quarter a very good overall performance.

Ceramics as a sustainable building material

The cladding of the building is of a particularly high-quality. In addition to more technical aspects such as the solar control glazing and the very high heat transfer coefficient, the façade is particularly impressive because of its aesthetic appeal. The material, white glazed ceramic elements, connects the three structures and emphasises the ensemble constellation. The double firing makes the ceramic used extremely robust, the surface is weather-resistant without requiring any special care. Störmer made a conscious decision for the white colour: “When I think of maritime themes, the first thing that comes to mind is white – the colour of the cruise liners, seagulls, the captain’s shirts”.

When Störmer walks through the quarter today, he is convinced each time anew of the material aesthetics of the building façades. The fact that he designed the Watermark in the Hanseatic city only reinforces his conviction even more. “Future projects can learn something from the Watermark Tower in terms of design – for example, that even in Hamburg you don’t always have to build with brick,” Störmer states.

Filed under: Sustainable Building


Witold Buenger works at the DGNB in Marketing and is Project Manager Product Communication. The key to successful work is to present topics and services in an appealing and target group-oriented way, and to present special topics in an entertaining and comprehensible way. He studied media and musicology and worked in various companies and editorial departments after completing his traineeship at a publishing house.

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