THE IDEA

The Speicherstadt is the traditional symbol of Hanseatic merchant power. Following the abolition of the free zone in 2003, the Speicherstadt has moved into the centre of Hamburg and today represents the portal between the city centre and HafenCity.

The successful idea of an artistic staging of the warehouses on the canals was born in 1993 and 1994. With the organisation of the International Light Forum by Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (then Hamburger Hafen und Lagerhaus AG) and subsequently with the theatre project “Der Hamburger Jedermann” by Michael Batz, the Speicherstadt was used as a stage for the first time and partially staged artistically.

In 2015, the Speicherstadt warehouse ensemble, which is unique in the world, and the neighbouring Kontorhaus district, together with the Chilehaus, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The current illumination of the Speicherstadt is altogether the result of a coherent artistic basic concept as well as a design process of many years full of technical and organisational challenges and experiences.

Wasserschloss © ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
Wasserschloss © ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel

REALISATION

With the theatre production “Mozart. Amerika” by Michael Batz (1999) at the Theater in der Speicherstadt was the breakthrough for the idea of a permanently illuminated Speicherstadt. The story of Mozart librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s stay in Hamburg (1801) transformed the Speicherstadt into a grandiose open-air opera house. Theatre-goers rode on launches through the illuminated canals and listened to arias from “Don Giovanni”. This was the start of a first temporary lighting design of facades, bridges and roofs just like winch bonnets and gables.

Immediately convincing was how the medium of light was to be rhythmised and qualified. The success of the theatre project marked the breakthrough for the idea of an illuminated Speicherstadt. The lighting concept formulated by Michael Batz became the basis for the realisation, not least because of the objective of harmoniously combining the three factors of aesthetics, economy and environmental compatibility.

© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel

STAGING

In the case of the Speicherstadt, the lighting concept could not fall back on any reference. A comparable object of similar size and architectural differentiation has never been illuminated before.

In April 2001, the city of Hamburg experienced the realisation of an unprecedented project: an entire district shone in light for the first time in the evening hours. Over a distance of 1.5 km, the historic warehouse complex was transformed into a fascinating nocturnal panorama. Over 60 harbour launches celebrated this moment with a ship siren concert. Since then, the image of the illuminated Speicherstadt with its beauty, elegance and lightness has been carried around the world for the city of Hamburg.

No floodlight, no distance light, no light canonade: with illumination, the light mass becomes, as it were, an integral part of the neo-Gothic architecture. The Speicherstadt rises from the darkness. The richness of the area is carefully staged and bathed in a narrative light. The artistic illumination of the Speicherstadt uses the metaphor of theatre: the city as a stage, the viewer as a player.

Light and darkness accentuate perspectives, highlight target points, envelop the concise and typical elements of the architecture in an appropriate brightness.

The visitor can choose between different perspectives: the view from the launch, the view from street level and the view from the buildings. All three lines of sight are included in the lighting design, which directly reflects the character of the huge ensemble. The viewer is invited to constantly change his perspectives. The interplay between light and dark is a constant invitation to stroll and discover the wealth of detail in Speicherstadt’s architecture. It also corresponds with the constant change of ebb and flow in the many canals of the Speicherstadt. Many filigree surface structures, figurative elements and a distinct colourfulness of the brick landscape await discovery. In many cases, the lighting is also reflected on the water surface, vertical, static light paths contrasting with their flat and moving counterparts.

© ELBE&FLUT / Heinz-Joachim Hettchen
© ELBE&FLUT / Heinz-Joachim Hettchen

LIGHT PROJECTS BATZ

In April 2001, the city of Hamburg witnessed the realisation of an unprecedented project: an entire district shone in light for the first time in the evening hours. Over a distance of 1.5 km, the largest historic warehouse complex in the world was transformed into a fascinating nocturnal panorama. Over 60 harbour launches celebrated this moment with a ship siren concert. Since then, an image of the Hanseatic city has been carried around the world that is characterised by beauty, elegance and lightness.

The subject of the artistic light description is an urban ensemble designed by ten architects at the end of the 19th century. They all had a training of the so-called Hanoverian school of church building, which became known in northern Germany under the keyword “Neo-Gothic” or also “Brick Gothic”. A striking number of cathedral quotations have thus entered the formal language of the warehouse landscape. Richness of detail, asymmetries, variations in the serial elements (oriels, gables, turrets, pointed roofs, winch bonnets) mark the characteristics and unique atmosphere of this city of goods. The colour of the building material used ranges from light yellow to blue-red, enriched by green or black glazed gemstones. Since the 1950s, war damage has been replaced by modern buildings, impregnation of facades has sometimes caused striking colour variations, renovated bridges stand with light corrosion coatings next to rusty dark ones.

As a horizontal urban massif, vertically clocked by the rows of hatchways, criss-crossed by canals and accentuated by bridges, the Speicherstadt lay for a century as a scarcely entered foreign country and “dark beast” in front of the harbour and the city centre. A very sensual place, once smelling of coffee and spices, now involved in the process of transformation into office space for new media and new economy. A place that is used as a backdrop for numerous film and television productions due to its atmosphere and hardly ever fails to appeal to visitors emotionally.

In this case, the lighting concept could not draw on any reference, as a comparable object of a similar scale and differentiated architecture had not yet been illuminated. The first experiences with the topic of light were made on site in September 1999 on the occasion of the theatre project “Mozart. America”. This showed how light was to be rhythmised and qualified. The success of the theatre project marked the breakthrough for the idea of an illuminated Speicherstadt. The formulated lighting concept became the basis for realisation, not least because of the requirement to reconcile the three factors of aesthetics, economy and environmental compatibility.

© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel

TECHNICAL IMPLEMENTATION

Glare is avoided by mounting the unobtrusive luminaires. The lighting is from the bottom to the top. Horizontal lighting points create the impression of great spatial depth. For this purpose, Philips drew up plans for the light distribution based on pictures of the façades.

The solution is a triumph of weak light. The average wattage for the entire Speicherstadt is 24, ranging from 13 watts in the area of the towers to 18 watts for the bridges and 35 watts for the facades. Only in isolated cases have 70 watts been used, for example to set buildings apart from one another. In general, not the two-dimensional but the structuring and sculptural elements have been emphasised. Structure, contour and cubature are the orientation features of the light description. The result is an extremely attractive design of light and dark, i.e. a modelling and picturesque treatment of the building ensemble, whose street names still recall the former neighbourhood of Dutch religious refugees. In terms of art history, a homage to the technique of chiaroscuro and its perfection in Dutch painting is quite intentional.

The operation of the buildings became the co-author of the lighting design. The inner water axis of the fleets, which was no longer needed for deliveries, made it possible to limit the light to a single luminaire in each case, which transported the light along the individual floors up to the winch bonnet. The projecting parts of the façade with the light-coloured sandstone ends, the worn, rounded edges of the floors as well as the final round arches of the hatches thus stand out impressively, the doors that are set back a little appear like portals of an entrance. The pictorial and the imaginative are gaining in importance. The memories retain something mysterious that they do not reveal immediately and at first glance. The Speicherstadt is thus not a landscape of the first, fleeting glance. As a place of stored time, it preserves the richness of its impressions for those viewers who are rewarded for taking their time.

The model for the street side that is still active in delivery is called pairing. On either side of the winch lift, which is still in operation, two outriggers were placed above the public clearance. The overall greater brightness is also due to the location towards the old town. This is the representative side of the Speicherstadt, directly on the Zollkanal, predestined for a promenade once the customs fence has fallen. At the same time, the Speicherstadt will have a portal function for the planned HafenCity, the major urban development programme directly adjacent to Sandtorkai, the world-famous address for the coffee trade.

Omission became an important compositional element in both the water and city sides. Completion was not chosen from the outset in order to preserve the raw material of darkness as much as possible and to avoid stereotypes. It was not a matter of lining up raised zebra stripes made of light next to each other, but of taking up and reproducing the living rhythm of the architecture in the light. This resolution proved to be correct not only for the short, but above all for the long glances in the respective perspective gathers. From the different angles, the Speicherstadt never appears quite the same.

Another consideration in the restraint relates to the development of ambient light and the renewal of street lighting. The more offices that are built, the brighter the place will be in the future. There should be no competition between the interior light of the offices and the exterior light of the illumination, but rather a meaningful dialogue. The whip lanterns of the public street lighting prove to be extremely disturbing and should be replaced by contemporary fixtures. In the area of the façades, for example at Block E (the Speicherstadt is divided into blocks), historical light points were used, only the direction was changed to emphasise the textures of the brickwork. Proximity to the object and façade had definite priority. As a matter of principle, distance and surface illumination, simulations and extraneous colours were avoided. Downlights are prohibited by themselves because of glare, but also to exclude dramatic effects – artificial moonlight situations, etc. A quiet, spectacle that gives the place a quiet, nocturnal existence without dramatising or romanticising it.

All bridges are illuminated from the substructure of their construction. The installation was done from pontoons, which was not always easy given the tidal and current conditions. Illuminated by fluorescent lamps of 18 watts each, the bridges appear like sculptures, artistic objects full of lightness. Here in particular, the contrast between the luminous metal construction and the liquid reflection in the waterways is very attractive.

Initially, only standard material from Philips was used. More than 1100 luminaires are currently installed. The trend towards miniaturisation can be seen as absolutely positive, as the experience in the Speicherstadt clearly proves. Recently, a wide variety of products have been retrofitted or installed using state-of-the-art LED technology. This keeps the project sustainable and economical.

FAQ

How is light art compatible with UNESCO World Heritage status and monument protection?

The concept and implementation of the lighting design were closely coordinated with the Hamburg Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments from the very beginning. All sections have been sampled and inspected in the presence of the acting Chief Building Director and a representative of the Monuments Office before the permanent installation.


Since 5 July 2015, the Speicherstadt and the neighbouring Kontorhaus district with the Chilehaus have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The illumination of the Speicherstadt has existed since 27 April 2001. It is not only compatible with World Heritage status, but has contributed to the success of the application as such.

How long do the LED luminaires last?

According to the manufacturers, the service life of LED lamps is a maximum of up to 100,000 hours (nominal value). Depending on individual usage time and external influences (including weather, vibrations, etc.), the actual service life may be noticeably shorter.

How many hours are the luminaires switched on per year?

In terms of daily operation, the illumination of the Speicherstadt is linked to the operating hours of the public lighting. In general, it is about 2600 hours per year.

Do the lights harm the animals in the Speicherstadt? Bats? Insects? Spiders?

During the 20 years of operation so far, no dramatic decrease in nocturnal fauna has been observed. Insects and spiders are still present in a noticeable way. No information is available on bats.

Does the stray light have negative effects?

Care has been taken to ensure that directional light is used, i.e. that scattered light effects are minimised as far as possible. There have been no complaints in the past years.

What happens during storm surge?

Depending on the water level, the Speicherstadt bridges or the applications installed there may be affected. Although special damp-proof luminaires are in use, complete failures can occur in the event of corresponding flooding.

Luminaires installed on the façades have not been damaged by wind so far because of the stable cantilevers.

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