architect: Benedetta Tagliabue embt (Miralles Tagliabue EMBT)
location: Hamburg, Germany
The open spaces of the western part of Hafencity are central components of the processes of transformation of the former harbor zone south of the historical Speicherstadt (waterhouse district) bordering on the inner city. This area has changed continuosly throughout its history, in keeping with various harbor and industrial uses. The alternating ebb and high tides characterize the typical appearance of the port basin. As protection against storm surges, new mixed used construction surfaces for central inner city functions such as residence, work, commerce, culture, and leisure will be elevated by approx three meters in the course of the development. In the framework of these processes of transormation from a harbor for ocean going vessels into a inner city district on a human scale, Hafencity Hamburg GmbH announced an open international competition in 2002, from wich the Embt emerged as first price winner. As a connective element for the various quarters of western Hafencity, Embt proposed a lively and multifaceted modulation of the public space. The planning area encompasses Sandtorhafen, Grasbrookhafen, both harbor heads, and the adjoining squares generated by the newrly planned development, as well as the quayside zones along the harbor basin. Each sector is designed in a way consistent with its intrinsic character.
Essential designed features are the special linking of the various public and private surfaces and elevations and links connecting land and water. The head of the harbor at Grasbrook respond to these uses. Landscape elements are introduced here in a more pronounced fashion. Bomb-damaged areas are planted with weeping willows, and given steps leading down to the water.
The head of the Harbor at Grasbrook offers various areas for lingering: two squares set on different levels, an outdoor resaurant, a green hilly landscape with a lawn for reclining under the trees along the water. The landscaping therme is continued all the way to the planting of the marina pontoon. In the future, Sandtorhafen will be used for historic vessels. The pontoon planned for it constitutes a floating square on the water that constitutes a unity in conjunction with the staircase at Sandtorhafen. The head of harbor at Sandtor is shaped by a spacious, terraced stepped landscape that simultaneously leads down to the water and effects a transition to Sandtor Park. In location, extent, and attractiveness, the surface of the square, resembles a water stage that invites passerby to linger, the surface of the square, resembles a water stage that invites passerby to linger.
The fastness of spaces is mediated with different surface treatments and colours. The Kibbelstegstrasse’s sidewalks are made from asphalt, with holes with grass or gravel. The stairs and inclines consist of alternating stone pavement and prefabr concrete, wich is decorated with patterns of birds and fishes. The vertical surfaces made with brick patterns that form the parapets and terraces feature streamlined fish. The enormous concrete curbs of the water’s edge is another reminder of he scale and former use of the site – a harbour – wich is subtlety juxtaposed with a fine, free-form railing on top.
The new profile of the land has been studied thinking of human needs, so that people can feel relaxed here. The new urban planning brings the public in a fluid movement from the new housing blocks down to the water, making for everyone's enjoyment a new artificial landscape that is inhabited by natural elements: water and plants. People can find water and trees on every level of the public space. Water level (0,00): A big floating platform provides access to small boats, sport boats and ferryboats, as well as leisure areas. Special floating elements provide the presence of greenery and trees at the water level. Water is visible from the borders and through holes, to create a pond like effect. Low promenade level (4,50): This level is mainly for pedestrians, and will host small cafes thereby creating a relaxed promenade overlooking the water. This level will be flooded only on exceptionally bad weather days, on an average of twice or three times a year.
Street level (7, 50): We propose pedestrian and playing areas also at street level, separating heavy traffic from pedestrians.
“A system of ramps, stairways, and catwalks connect the different levels. One of the project’s most welcome protagonists is the vegetation; thee are many different types and the addition will change the look of the port according to the season of the year, a note of colour and contrasts for the northern city”.
”Los primeros croquis para el Parque Diagonal Mar son lineas que seleccionan más que nada unos caminos de energía, unos flujos que sólo más tarde se transformarán en caminos, montañas, agua, espacios infantiles. Estas líneas indican un deseo de un mundo natural en la ciudad, reflejo de algo lejano en nuestras mentes de un jardín, un paraíso...” This is how Benedetta Tagliabue describes the spark behind the Parque Diagonal Mar project, from the earliest sketches, when Enric Miralles was still alive, to its completion. She has written about flowing energy that turns into spaces, objects, pathways, that is then brought together into physical lines which in turn draw spaces, define heights, which rise and fall, reach upward toward the sky. At the heart of everything these lines are the jump-off point for fantastical and inventive images, for daydreams, and can serve as a metaphor for the last ten years of work from the EMBT studio that Benedetta Tagliabue runs. Lines are at once continuity, memory, connection, but at the same time they project into the future. They appear to be the thread running through her most recent projects, almost like a recollection of an ancient story in a present that concentrates on moving towards times yet to come.
It was in January 2005, on a morning as warm and sunny as only winter mornings in Barcelona can be, that I first went to the Parque Diagonal Mar. I was with Benedetta and our children Caterina, Anna Virginia and Domenech. As the children played and ran around, slid and climbed, I watched and thought about how strong the present is, its sense of becoming, about the unfinished park, about the children who are our future and of the memory of Enric, alive and well, all bound up inside an EMBT studio project coming to life in this area surrounded by cranes and in the midst of transformation. There was some magic in the atmosphere. Benedetta and I started playing with the children and found ourselves completely at one with the park.
Benedetta Tagliabue’s lines, symbolic lines and physical lines drawn on the ground, crop up across the 17 hectares that make up this Park. The lines take on different forms and directions that design makes tangible but are as intangible as water spray. But the last ten years have meant a period of hard work during which she has preserved continuity but built a new architectural and professional identity. For several reasons I’ve chosen to focus on two projects: Parque Diagonal Mar in Barcelona and Hafencity in Hamburg. Let me try to explain why. Both projects are urban in scale, open spaces, places for people to be, projects that work on the relationship between land and water. In Hamburg, the project runs along the waterfront; in Barcelona it is on a diagonal.
One was born as a specialist area, a port; the other reshaped an important tract of the city, the Poblenou district on the threshold of sea and beach, adding new-build residential accommodation. The liminal area between land and water is somewhat magical: specific orographical, physical and positional conditions not only inform how a city is built but also provide a basic ingredient for how it is configured and how it looks. Through the built environment, both of these projects seem to celebrate and underpin liminality - a play between addition and subtraction, water and land.
“Until it reaches its limits, the sea is a simple thing that repeats wave on wave. But the simplest things in nature don’t allow anything else alongside without shifting shape, without making a big fuss, or the greatest things without undergoing some sort of diminishing”, wrote the extraordinary poet Francis Ponge. Man designs shapes but, in the end, there is always a clash between natural shapes and artificial ones. Hamburg’s tidal waters change the waterfront scenery during the course of each day and over the seasons. The project accommodates this with flexibility of form for differing conditions. A clever play on height gives various build levels to the new quays, an artificial shore made even more complex as the new design is added over the rigidity of the port profile.
In Barcelona the project’s flowing lines are reminiscent of vegetation rich in trees, branches and stems.
These give the natural feel of a moulded border between beach and sea to the urban space, creating lots of welcoming and embracing places for people to stop and enjoy the breezes and perfumes of the sea close by. In this project, it is the natural that comes across most strongly. Water is a main component: various water sources and a large lake reflecting the city and with it all that is natural and artificial; water nebulised and sprayed from steel tubes that intertwine to become pergolas; shade-giving refuges that progressively take on different shapes and different roles set against the backdrop of the sea – calm, choppy, stormy, blue, turquoise, cobalt.
Although Hamburg and Barcelona are culturally, geographically and climatically poles apart, in both places Benedetta Tagliabue choses spatial arrangements that enhance the value of the areas’ position. She offers new access to liminal areas, meaning that the limit is not a boundary, not a closing off from other, but rather a place next to other stories and worlds, a place open to the possible, to welcoming other. And this is not only characteristic of Benedetta Tagliabue’s personality but also typical of the environment at the EMBT studio, where the way of working is one of openness and welcome to other, to the world and to what is going on outside. These places have been thought out, designed and built by the same people. They are places of welcome in the city, threshold places. As Benjamin says, “a threshold is a zone, a zone of passage. The word threshold implies ‘change’, ‘passage, ‘sea’”.
Hamburg’s Hafencity accommodates the changing surroundings with a system of floating platforms that rise and fall with the tides, creating an artificial but not static environment. This is carried over into the perception people get of the place from two pedestrian walkways, on different levels, both of which adapt and move with the motion of the tides. The first walkway, 4.5 metres above ground, is a pedestrian area for small businesses. At 7.5 metres a second walkway at street level offers an alternative pedestrian filter to the traffic on the major roads. A complex system of paths, ramps, walkways and inclines links together the spaces on all three levels. Here the passage not only between land and water but also between the port and its city is facilitated by new spaces that respect the memory of previous infrastructure while delivering a new narrative about a concerted effort to claim back the waterfront for the city. Some spaces are also conceived with the port in mind, like the Kibbelsteg bridge that draws the city toward the water, the new paved square and the views over the River Ride. The site earmarked for the Parque Diagonal Mar possesses fundamentally different characteristics to those in Hamburg, starting with the fact that it is a threshold. The site is at the end of the Avinguda Diagonal, in the “Plan 22@” zone, that reorganises the old Poblenou industrial zone. It is where the major thoroughfare takes on a new role as the structural axis for the new developments, where the plans fracture the Cerdà geometry. The new park slots into the threshold between this zone, known as Diagonal Mar, and the Olympic village. The Parque Diagonal Mar is a very urban, green, area where artifice and nature truly blend. Artifice echoes nature’s shapes and forms triggering a continuous counterpoint between trees, grass and plants. The design of the green pavement alternates rises, flat meadows and green hills, bridges and walkways, spaces dedicated to sport and games – in a never-ending marking, excavating and shaping of the landscape. In Hamburg, the Parque Diagonal Mar’s greenness and strong sense of nature become an artificial landscape punctuated by natural elements such as the water and green. Trees, shapes of seagull flight, of ships sailing, of waters choppy with waves – all find their subtle way into the design of the old port spaces and surface again in the decorations on walls and objects, in the use of colour so delicate that it recalls the rustle of a richly embroidered fabric. In the Parque Diagonal Mar, decoration, which is an important element in the Barcelona studio’s projects, takes the form of large floral designs in coloured ceramic, often with a reflective finish, perfected through laboratory testing. We are talking about two urban development projects with strong “founding” values, designed for places claiming back or building an identity. Here the concept of architectural design claims the project as a means of excellence through which to know and transform reality. This includes fully owning our own imaginative capacity and being open to wonder.
“Coming back to the spark behind a project […] perhaps the problem is having to put yourself into the mix, but when we identify the problem it is incredible how every automatic answer is excluded,” said Enric Miralles. “I am truly surprised at how this can be, what I mean is at how you can conjure a new topography out of the meeting of different forms, like lashes meeting with the eyes.”
Marella Santangelo, architect, won a PhD in Architectural Composition on a CNR scholarship at the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona, and has taught on contract at the School of Specialization in Urban Design at the "Federico II" University of Naples where she is also on the faculty of the architecture department. Since 1991 she has been engaged in research on the subject of architecture and urban design at the Department of Urban Design. She has publilshed and edited a number of books and essays, including most recently Architettura contemporanea in Brasile, 2006; EMBT 1997/2007 10 anni di architetture Miralles Tagliabue, 2008.