Zaha Hadid Architects has raised both the cultural cachet and the storm surge barriers in the German city of Hamburg with their recently completed upgrade to the Elbe River promenade and flood barrier at Niederhafen. Designed with an undulating shape that mimics the ebb and flow of tides, the revamped promenade reconnects the river to the surrounding urban fabric and boosts the popular riverside walkway appeal with a modern redesign large enough to accommodate a wide variety of groups, from pedestrians and joggers to street performers and food vendors.
Built in the 1960s, the Elbe River flood barrier was created following a devastating series of storm surge floods in 1962 that claimed 315 lives and destroyed the homes of 60,000 residents. In 2006, when the city of Hamburg discovered that the Niederhafen’s existing flood barrier was in need of significant reinforcement and should be raised to protect against threats of flooding, the government hosted a competition and selected Zaha Hadid Architects to lead the redesign.
Nearly a decade after the competition, the architecture firm has now completed all stages of construction. Although the flood barrier primarily serves as a mode of defense, it has also become an iconic public space for the city, where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the riverside walkway. A minimum width of ten meters along the promenade ensures enough space for a diversity of activities, while dedicated cycle lanes at street level run the length of the flood protection barrier.
Split into two sections, the river promenade features a “larger scale” zone on the west side that overlooks views of shipping activity on the river, while the east side offers a more intimate atmosphere with access down to the water’s edge. Pedestrian areas of the promenade are clad in a dark, anthracite-colored granite that pop against the light gray granite used for the staircases and amphitheaters that punctuate the walkway and frame views of the river and city.
Images © Piet Niemann