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Six glimpses into Hamburg’s future

“The best way to predict your future is to create it,” Abraham Lincoln once famously said. According to Franz-Josef Hoeing, Hamburg’s Chief Planning Director, this principle also applies to cities. He offers us an exclusive outlook on six landmarks and projects that will shape Hamburg’s future.




“Hamburg is an architectural beauty located on the water with an open and honest character. The city’s aspirations are achieved at the end of the day. In my opinion this combination is unique and fantastic”, enthuses Franz-Josef Hoeing, Chartered Engineer and Hamburg’s Chief Planning Director.

All roads lead to Hamburg

The city’s highest technical officer completed his studies in Urbanism in Dortmund (Germany), before working as scientific assistant at the Chairs of Urbanism & Urban Development at the Technical Universities in Vienna (Austria) and Aachen (Germany).

‘All roads lead to Rome’, according to the famous saying, which in Mr. Hoeing’s case holds true if one replaces the Italian capital with Hamburg. Between 2000 and 2004, he served as the personal assistant to his predecessor and partially led the project group ‘HafenCity’, which in recent years constituted Europe’s largest urban development project and enlarged the surface of Hamburg’s city centre by 40%. Although he held three positions in other German towns, he couldn’t resist Hamburg’s allure and accepted the role as its Chief Planning Director in 2017.

Challenging times ahead

According to United Nations projections, 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. What does this mean for urban planners? “Cities currently experience a period of stress. How are they to deal with more people, more traffic and fewer open areas? It is a global phenomenon that can also be observed in Hamburg: The city is growing. You see construction sites everywhere. And for countless projects we definitely cannot revert to standard solutions”, explains Mr. Hoeing. “On the one hand, this exerts lots of pressure on urban developers. On the other hand, however, it gives us the opportunity to redefine our role. We have to engage with the local communities and truly listen to their concerns, wishes and ideas.”

Shaping Hamburg’s future

So what is Hamburg’s recent construction boom all about? In the following, Franz-Josef Hoeing offers you a glimpse into six landmarks and projects that will transform the city.

1. A place where music finds a home

“It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Elbphilharmonie for Hamburg. First of all, it offers a home to international and local musicians and music enthusiasts. Secondly, it can be regarded as an architectural expression of our ambition to play in the top league of international cities. Thirdly, I honestly do not know of any other modern building that stirs up as many emotions, both domestically as well as internationally. And finally, I find it fantastic that the public platform is freely accessible. It is an unusual public space that addresses the city and everybody who will hopefully visit it in the future.”

2. A new gateway to Hamburg

“Just opposite of the Elbphilharmonie, we are working on the construction of ‘HafenCity’s’ final landmark: a 240-metre high skyscraper called ‘Elbtower. David Chipperfield Architects in London won the international competition. The building will mainly serve three purposes: First of all, retailers and hotels will move in. Secondly, the 11 000 square metres on the ground floor are reserved for public use. Maybe it will house a museum upon its envisioned completion in the year 2025 or 2026. Thirdly, its 55th floor will be open to visitors who will enjoy a spectacular view over the city.”

3. Redefining the future of work

“Gruner & Jahr is an important German media company. Their management team faced the problem that the structure of their current office building no longer fit their vision of how a publishing house should operate. Hence, the architectural bureau Caruso St. John designed a 60 000 square metre building for them in which projects can be managed in changing constellations. It is fascinating to observe how architecture and urban design respond to new realities. Furthermore, the city of Hamburg will manage an exhibition space on the ground floor. The architecture will largely be characterised by ceramic and embraces the nearby park. We hope that the building enables its journalists to deliver great work.”

4. Urban expansion into Oberbillwerder

“Oberbillwerder is located in the South-East of Hamburg. What we are trying to develop in this area is a new part of the city – not just apartments. To avoid making this mistake, we are working very closely with landscape architects, traffic planners et cetera to develop solutions to the following questions: What should a city quarter outside the city’s gates look like? What character should it have? How can we offer affordable housing? Where will people work? The coming months and years will reveal the answers as we are pursuing a collaborative approach in Oberbillwerder.”

5. Working in Hamburg's East

“In addition to Hamburg’s harbour, this area houses the second-largest industrial and commercial quarter of the city. Our famous traditional warehouses and the chemical industry can be found here. The city proactively proposed a strategy to upgrade these old quarters and enable more people from different professional backgrounds to work in a central location by means of selective intervention such as creating more open spaces, facilitating digitalisation, and building a new underground line.”

6. Creating a dense city within the city

"’Kleiner Grasbrook’ is a district in Hamburg’s city centre that is currently occupied by harbour facilities. It is our objective to transform this area into a buzzing city quarter. Imagine your eyes wander over a well-functioning harbour industry that operates around the clock, with big car ferries departing day and night. Then you turn and observe an area that offers 3000 apartments, approximately 16 000 jobs and all necessary social infrastructures. To sum up the questions we are currently working on: How do you organise a neighbourhood that supports each another? What can unusual housing alternatives look like? And what does urban density actually mean?”

Improving life quality
These six examples constitute only a fraction of the project portfolio that Hamburg’s Authority for Urban Development and Housing works on. It acts as a think-tank that tries to make the city more liveable and attractive day by day, project by project and cobblestone by cobblestone. Does this mission ever overwhelm Mr. Hoeing? I believe that cities may represent humanity’s biggest cultural achievement. Creating a space in the true sense of the word is complex. And with it come the questions: What does this space look like? And how can this space contribute to make people live together well? Without wanting to become too emotional, I find this fascinating,” he concludes.