IBA Hamburg, a German approach on sustainable urban development

6451 Last modified by the author on 25/05/2015 - 19:13
IBA Hamburg, a German approach on sustainable urban development

Internationale Bauausstellung or International Building Exhibition is a well known concept in Germany. For more than a century, these IBA’s have been an instrument of visionary urban development, not just a mere exhibition. It is a lab where people are researching and developing live, like in a laboratory. The case of Hamburg is exceptional, and Uli Hellweg, Director of IBA Hamburg tells its story.

How was IBA Hamburg born?

Uli Hellweg: It was born from a long “tradition” of International building exhibitions in Germany. The first one took place in 1901, in Mathildenhöhe. But the most recent IBA introduced the concept of live laboratory on cities, with a very comprehensive approach. With IBA Hamburg the Senat of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg  decided to  install an IBA on the Elbe Islands Wilhelmsburg, the largest populated river island in Europe, Veddel and Harburg. No less than 70 projects have been implemented on these islands. We chose these islands because they became problem areas after the great storm surge of 1962 and the fundamental change in port industries due to containerization in the sixties of last century. Committed citizens of Wilhemsburg took action to make a better place out of their island/district. They reflected on what could be done. As a result of their mobilization, in 2004 the City of Hamburg outlined its “Sprung über die Elbe” (Leap across the Elbe) and drafted in 2005 the Memorandum for the IBA Hamburg 2013. It took 7 years to prepare the IBA, from 2006 to 2013.

What came out of the IBA and what did it become in 2015?

Project Areas IBA Hamburg GmbH Elbe Islands - Credits IBA HamburgU.H.: In 2013, the Presentation Year, 70 projects were presented, some were still under construction, while others, such as the “Renewable Wilhelmsburg Climate Protection Concept” are to be carried out over the long term. The exhibition was expected to be a success but not of this magnitude. Here are some key numbers:

  • 1,733 residential units
  • 100,000 sqm of commercial space
  • 8 educational establishments
  • 2 senior citizens’ homes
  • 3 day nurseries
  • 4 sports facilities
  • 1 commercial park
  • 1 center for artists and creative workers
  • Over 70 hectares of green spaces
  • Over 420,000 visitors
  • 700 million € in private investments
  • 300 million € public investments

After 2013, IBA Hamburg was the second IBA to be transformed into a development company. Local authorities decided to continue the work started in 2006 and to move forward, especially by applying this comprehensive approach to additional urban areas of Hamburg. Today IBA Hamburg works like HafenCity the other urban development company of Hamburg, but we focus more on upgrading existing urban districts than on the total conversion of abandoned industrial or former port  areas.  We are a core team of 20 people with some  20 freelancers with a wide range of expertise: architects, urban planners, sociologists, engineers, researchers and more... It’s a colorful and comprehensive team.

Due to common urbanistic targets and a fundamental understanding of what the European City should look like in future, IBA and HafenCity decided in 2011 to implement the joined exhibition “Building the City Anew”, which is now going to be presented in Marne-la-Vallée.

 In a way, the exhibition represents not  only the “philosophy” of IBA and HafenCity  but shows primarily the implemented projects, representing certain approaches to solve urgent environmental, urban and social problems, we have to tackle in our cities.  

Why did you decide to present IBA Hamburg in other countries?

U.H.:  We aim to inspire and to get inspired by other people’s visions of future cities, wether they are architects, urban planners, engineers, sociologists, or simple citizens. We encounter similar issues in many European countries, even in some North American cities. But we don’t necessarily consider or treat them the same way. It’s very enlightening and fruitful to meet professionals from other countries and cultures to share our points of view, to share perspectives. In each city we visited, the focus topic was different. Baltimore, a city affected by riots, was very interested in the “Open city” concept. But how do you implement that concept in a city where segregation is still so present?

What drove you to exhibit in Marne-la-Vallée?


We made the connection with Nicolas Buchoud from EPAMARNE last year. He has visited the exhibition in 2013 and we met in Versailles in 2014. From this meeting we realised that we face similar challenges and issues: integration of social groups, managing urban growth, improving the quality of life. That's why we want to intensify the collaboration between our organisations.

On June 3, Uli Hellweg and Prof. Bruns-Berentelg will present their work at Marne-la-Vallée during the opening conference of the exhibition.

Register - Program

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HafenCity Hamburg, inspiring German initiative to develop green cities

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