A dashing wave above the river

Bridge architecture and the Elbtower

It is amazing that although Hamburg has been around for more than a thousand years, the first bridges over the River Elbe were only built two hundred years ago. The competition with Harburg on the other side of the river was too great for the people of Hamburg. Anyone who wanted to cross the river there had to take the ferry – or wait for winter until the river froze over. Today, there are more than 2,500 bridges, which create a city out of many islands, former towns, and communities.

But the bridges contribute more than simply helping the traffic and mobility, they shape the architecture of the city too. Above all, the Neue Elbbrücke, one of the three bridges at the tip of HafenCity, has a particularly striking effect. Its undulating shape has an elegant sweep that can also be found elsewhere in HafenCity: the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, for example, with its roof silhouette, looks like a reverse copy of the bridge’s arch. The Elbtower – Hamburg’s second new icon – also has something of that bold sweep in the upward movement as well as in the slightly offset rotation of the building’s body. And the principle of a down-to-earth materiality, which also characterizes the bridge, runs right through the entire new district.

An ideal balance between tension and pressure

The unusual look of the Neue Elbbrücke didn’t just arise out of aesthetic considerations. The structure consists of lenticular segments lined up next to each other, which ideally compensate for static tension and pressure. The structure is called the Lohse girder – after the engineer and senior civil engineer Hermann Lohse, who also gave his name to Lohsepark in HafenCity. When the historic Neue Brücke was built almost a hundred years ago, the people of Hamburg found the Lohse girder more attractive than the lattice girders that were common at the time. It also required less material. For structural reasons and because of the new taste of the times, however, later bridges were no longer built with curved Lohse girders.

Bridges and roads for business

The Elbbrücken bridges reflect the economic reality of the city. When globalization and industrialization determined trade in the 19th century, the city and port had to grow simultaneously. New roads and bridges had to be built, especially to connect the free port at Steinwerder and Kleinen Grasbrook in the south of Hamburg. Soon after the Second World War, Hamburg’s roads again became congested. For that reason, the Neue Elbbrücke that is still there now, and which was originally built in 1929, was rebuilt in 1960. It was extended to include new traffic lanes which cars and traffic use today.

At the same time the ships on the Norderelbe were getting bigger and bigger too, so the engineers elevated the roadways by 2.5 meters. Today, large ocean-going ships can only navigate the River Elbe downstream behind the Elbbrücken. In the coming years, another economic upheaval is on the horizon that will change Hamburg’s economy and people’s behavior towards mobility. And again, new bridges are being planned for the long term at the foot of the Elbetower – surrounding the new center of the city.

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