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Zaha Hadid Architects’s Hamburg river promenade protects against storm surges

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A public amenity that doubles as flood protection

People sitting on stairs on an elevated granite promenade near the river. Piet Niemann

With storm surges come new infrastructure, and in recent years, architects have reimagined city coastlines as barriers that balance aesthetic with protection. The latest design-minded reaction to climate change comes from Zaha Hadid Architects, who recently finished the 2,050-foot Niederhafen promenade along the Elbe River in Hamburg, Germany.

The previous river promenade protected the city up to 23.6 feet above sea level, but advanced simulations predicted that an additional 2.6 feet in barrier height will be needed to defend Hamburg from future winter storm surges and extreme high tides. To safeguard Hamburg against this forecast, the firm conceived a pathway that’s 28 feet above sea level.

People milling about promenade by river Piet Niemann

The design winds along the river with a dark granite promenade built for pedestrians. Carved granite stairs flank the path, creating amphitheater seating that functions as a lookout point to the port on the riverside and as a connection to the street level down below on the other side. There is also seating for picnics, as well as restaurants and a bike path for cyclists.

People walking down stairs Piet Niemann
People sitting at picnic tables Piet Niemann