Bordeaux and Hamburg, two cities in the throes of a port revival
Abandoned warehouses, derelict docks, old industrial brownfields… Although by definition they form the entrance gate into waterside cities, ports can be known to lose their shine. Sometimes, however, this is only temporary. In Bordeaux and Hamburg, portside neighbourhoods are regaining their erstwhile charm. Both located not far from the city centre, the Bacalan neighbourhood in Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world, and the HafenCity district in Hamburg are now bustling, fully modernised and forward-looking urban areas.
Both districts boast their own landmark building. In Bordeaux, the majestic, ultra-modern Cité du Vin museum, which opened in 2016, represents a sort of “emblem at the city’s waterway entrance”, explained Anouk Legendre, partner and co-founder of XTU architects, the firm behind the building’s design. In her opinion, the building’s curves reflect both the “flow” of the encircling Garonne river and that of “a fine wine swirling in a glass before revealing its aroma.” Hamburg’s HafenCity district also embodies “a stamp of modernity”, according to Samuel Depraz, head of the ESPI real estate research group, culminating in the impressive Elbphilharmonie building designed by Herzog & De Meuron and completed in 2017. “The brownfield has been entirely rebuilt in line with iconic post-modern architecture standards. In light of this, the area mirrors the typical architectural features of the city, on a much larger scale.”
Remnants of the past
Despite their visible modernity, both redevelopment projects have drawn upon existing features in their own way to enhance their reinvention. In Bordeaux, the Bacalan neighbourhood is still marked by the bombings and bunkers of the German occupation period. The port was then closed in 1983 and its warehouses abandoned.
The neighbourhood was somewhat neglected. We are changing its culture today so that it becomes a happy memory in the future.Anouk Legendre
Partner and co-founder of XTU architects
The attraction of the Cité du Vin (391,000 visitors in 2022) has even prompted a resurgence of the port’s lost history …… literally, as boats now ferry tourists around this newly popular area.
In Hamburg, on the other hand, the port is still in operation. It is even the third busiest in Europe. “In a way, the HafenCity project (for which work began in 2007) complements the existing port operations by adding a tertiary counterweight. There is hardly any industry in this new neighbourhood. It does however feature several insurance banks and the headquarters of a national media giant (Der Spiegel), as well as a cultural component with the Elbphilharmonie concert hall and the university”, Samuel Depraz explained. “It’s a part of town that complements the port, which has moved slightly downstream.”
A new lease of life
Connected to the city via the Bordeaux tram line or Hamburg underground, these new neighbourhoods not only add to the existing urban fabric, they also remodel the entire network they are joining. In the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, eco-districts like Ginko and Bassins à flot have been built on the site of the former port, with a strong focus on greening. Just like the Cité du Vin itself, located in an “oasis of greenery”, as Anouk Legendre described the spot when sharing thoughts on urban heat islands at a time of global warming. The building’s bioclimatic design allowing natural optimisation of ventilation systems is “a sign of the times”, she added, “that also presages the future”.
While the people of Bordeaux were fully on board with this viticulture museum, the development of the HafenCity district in Hamburg caused a stir. When the buildings (notably designed to withstand strong floods) were commercialised in 2015, rents were 2.5 times higher than the average in Hamburg at the time, Samuel Depraz stated. As such, the project’s ultra-modernity contrasted with “considerable inner-city poverty”, the researcher explained, clarifying that “there are still 3,500 dockers working at the port each day.”
Between two tides?
Through these bold redevelopment projects, Hamburg and, to a lesser extent, Bordeaux, which is strengthening its dominant position on the international wine scene, reflect “an image of innovation and involvement in globalisation”, Samuel Depraz added, highlighting the difficulties associated with such large-scale port revival projects, which are caught between two tides: preserving local heritage while attracting international investors.
At the risk of blurring their identity? The Bacalan neighbourhood “is undeniably reminiscent of other ports. Ports are like a kind of global parallel universe. In some places, you can’t tell whether you’re in Yokohama or Hamburg”, Anouk Legendre quipped. Samuel Depraz expresses a similar view with the notion of a “hyper-place” (a concept borrowed from geographer Michel Lussault): “In the end, being in HafenCity means being in direct communication with New York, Singapore and all those other identical areas, maybe even more so than with the lower-income neighbourhoods of the city itself”, albeit a stone’s throw away. It is as if redeveloping a port area inevitably traps the buildings between two tides, mixing the past with the future and local architecture with a more global appeal.