Hamburg, Germany


Europe's largest river island is home to one of the worlds smartest and sustainable urban developments.

Wilhelmsburg is a district of the northern German city of Hamburg. Covering 35km2 the island lies in the middle of the Elbe River and has a population of 50,000 people. It is an incredibly diverse place- there are residents from every corner of the globe. The mixture of residential areas amongst farmland, industry, national park, and shipping ports make this district a unique place.

What has certainly added another exciting, diverse element to the district of Wilhelmsburg is the urban development sparked by the International Building Exhibition (IBA) of 2013.

The IBA sought to find answers to the questions that are going to be asked of our cities in the coming years. To do this 3 themes were developed- 

  • Demonstrating how we will live together in a metropolis was the first theme of the exhibition. It was titled 'Cosmopolis'.
  • The second theme was titled 'Metrozone'. This highlighted how to provide space for growth in cities.
  • 'Cities and climate change' was the third theme. It proves that it is possible for cities to grow in an environmentally friendly way.

Across Wilhelsmburg a total of 70 unique projects made up the IBA. The main attraction of the exhibition was the central area known as "New Middle Wilhelmsburg". This area is the nucleus of sustainable urban development. It provides many high quality, futuristic examples of residential and commercial buildings in such a small area. Below is a summary of a few of the projects.


Water Houses

The 5 buildings which make up the Water Houses residential development show the quality of life which can be achieved when living directly on the water. Using the natural environment (which is literally accessible at the door step) there are numerous benefits to both the resident as well as the environment long term. The buildings incorporate sustainable elements such as solar thermal in the facades which provides hot water to residents, and a geothermal pump system that uses the water to heat the apartments.


BIQ- Algae House

The building with a  "second green skin" implements world first technology that uses photosynthesis to produce energy. Algae in glass panels on the buildings facade grow when exposed to sun. The algae is then transferred as a thick pulp, fermented and turned into bio-gas. The glass panels also offer shading, wind protection, as well as sound and thermal insulation. Click here for more on the process and information on the other sustainable aspects of the Algae House.


Wood Cube 

Renewable and sustainable as well as striking and modern. The idea behind the Wood Cube was to draw attention to and inspire further construction using mostly timber. The building was designed to emit zero CO2 over it's entire lifecycle. The timber on the facade of the Wood Cube is untreated; therefore it can effectively be recycled when the need be. Smart building design in conjunction with the use of renewable energy give the Wood Cube impressively low energy consumption figures.


Soft House

The 3 story, 4 home 'Soft House' uses a "dynamic textile facade to harness sunlight in a versatile and smart way". Apart from shading the building from the hot summer sun the panels incorporate photovoltaic panels which produce energy for the residents to use. The panels automatically follow the sun over the coarse of the day, but can also be manually controlled by the resident to allow more/ less light into the apartment. Simple, sustainable construction!


Smart is Green

Phase change material, green facades, green roof and photovoltaic and solar thermal panels. This 5 story residential apartment building lives right up to it's name. It is smart in using modern technology to create a green (environmentally friendly) home. Phase Change materials (PCM) incorporated into the facade of the building keep a stable temperature. The (PCM) absorbs and stores heat when it is hot, then releases this heat at night when the outside temperature cools down.


Basic Building- DIY Builders

An interesting concept.... The basic 5 story "skeleton" of this residential building was constructed then left... Left to the resident who bought the apartment to complete. This allows a couple of things- low cost construction, versatility and future layout changes pending the needs of the resident. Management of the finishing construction must be the key element to ensuring this building remains up to local building standards.

IGS Centre

This building was originally set up to be the information and visitor centre for the International Garden Show Hamburg, and the International Building Exhibition. Today the building is for mixed use; residential on the upper floors, and commercial space on the lower floor. Green walls and a green roof provide thermal insulation and a geothermal pump system mean IGS Centre uses minimal energy for heating and cooling.


Island Park Hall

The living architecture on the long white facade of the sport centre is not only aesthetically pleasing but also environmentally beneficial. The greenery breaks the long aluminium facade essentially marrying  the structure back into the surrounding environment. On the opposite side of the building the wall has been designed to use air to conduct heat. The narrow south facade features full height glass doors which can be fully opened in fair weather and allows for natural ventilation.



Ministry for Urban Development and Environment

Arguably the centrepiece of the New Middle Wilhelmsburg development is the 5 to 13 story office building of the Ministry for Urban Development and Environment. 

The building is the workplace of 1400 government employees working for departments of Urban Development, Geo-Information and the Surveying authority. This building is eye catching. Extensive and intensive green roofs, and a colourfully curving glass facade make this a remarkable piece of architecture to look at. 

Perhaps the most striking aspect to the building is something you can not see at all. Below the buildings footings 1000 energy piles (up to 18 metre deep) were drilled and sunk into the earth. The Geothermal pumps brings heat from the earth into the building when it is required in the cold winter months. In summer cool air is pumped from the ground below. This technology in combination with the design to make best use of natural ventilation lead to extremely low yearly energy consumption. It is said to have an energy consumption of just 70kwh/m2 per year. That is about 1/4 of what a comparable office building built in the 1970's would use.

The roofs of the building also contribute to the low energy consumption figure. The green roofs (both extensive and intensive) provide thermal insulation for the building- keeping it cooler in the summer and retaining heat on the inside in winter.  The green roofs are also aesthetically pleasing which (studies have found) increases the performance of the office workers. The green roofs have numerous benefits for the environment. They contribute to a decrease in the urban heat island effect, provide habitat for insects, pollinators and bird life, as well as retain rain water, slowing its flow into the storm water system.

For much more information on the inspirational IBA Wilhelmsburg visit