Der Rheinauhafen – A Model of Waterfront Redevelopment

On a recent visit to Cologne (Köln), Germany, I discovered an inspiring urban redevelopment project, Rheinauhafen (Rheinau Harbor). The site covers 38 acres and 1.2 miles of riverfront along the Rhein between the bridges Südbrücke and Severinbrücke. The main reason this site is so transformative, is that it is on the site of the original Rheinauhafen, a commercial harbor dating back to the 1880s. When the site’s port functions were relocated after World War II, the site fell into disrepair and stood as a physical and psychological barrier between the City’s people and their river – a condition all too common in many cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia.

Planning for the site’s redevelopment was jump started by an urban design competition in the 1990s. Construction began in 2002, took almost ten years and became the City’s largest urban revitalization effort to date. According to one source, the project created approximately 2,500 jobs.

We were first attracted to the modern architecture (like the three Kranhäuser, Art Hotel and Schokoladenmuseum) and waterfront location but soon discovered that the site was much more than that. Upon further exploration (I walked the full length of the peninsula… mesmerized the entire time) I fell in love with the site for its unique combination of modern architecture and adaptive reuse of historic structures blending a respect for the historic location and former land use and the country’s propensity for modern architecture. For example, many of the Siebengebirge (wharf warehouses) were retrofitted with modern interiors while preserving the gritty exterior. The buildings were converted into a unique mixture of offices, restaurants, galleries and residences.

The site also integrates many, many land uses; carefully designed plazas and parks integrate the densely developed site and create plentiful useful community open space for residents, workers and visitors. People are allowed to drive their cars to Rheinauhafen but are immediately directed to an underground parking garage. (It is estimated that this massive underground car park cost 100 million Euro!) Pedestrian access to and from the parking garage is through attractive and airy glass structures. Several of the City’s light rail lines have stops near the peninsula as well.

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