newsletter link
mondo arc

Hafencity-University Subway Station, Hamburg, Germany

Issue 71 Feb / Mar 2013 : Architectural : Transport

CLIENT: Hafencity LIGHTING DESIGN: Pfarré Lighting Design PHOTOGRAPHY: Markus Tollhopf

Hafencity has thrived for nearly a millennium as Hamburg’s river port. A new subway lighting scheme by Pfarré Lighting Design honours the area’s industrious past.

Hafencity used to be Hamburg’s shipping hub, at one time comprised of a rabbit warren of warehouses and storage facilities, it has played a key role in Germany’s social and economic history for many years. Sitting on the banks of the River Elbe, for emigrants in the 20th century, be they looking for a better a life, or fleeing persecution, Hafencity was a gateway to the rest of the world. Germany’s Ellis Island.

Growing out of a lucrative tax exemption Emperor Barbarossa bestowed on Hamburg in 1189, freeing the city from customs duty, the port became a dynamo of activity and development, the money made turning merchants into kings, who built impressive homes with elegant architecture on the canal islands of Brook, Kehrwieder and Wandrahm.

The Hafencity revolution was stalled by the Second World War, but it was the invention of the freight container in 1956 that did the most damage. The new ships needed to carry the containers were too big for the harbour basin, the dockside facilities too small to be useful and the port duly moved to the south side of the Elbe in response, ending the area’s shipping dominance.

Since the German senate granted official city status to the area in 1997, the brick warehouses that had started to fall empty have seen a new lease of life, as museums, multimedia agencies and a more creative based industry moved into the area. Today Hafencity boasts the International Maritime Museum of Hamburg and the impressive Elbe Philharmonic Hall, which is currently under construction on top of the red bricks of an old warehouse, past and future beautifully fused together in one building.

The same can be said of the new Hafencity-University Subway Station, the design of which was inspired by the shipping container itself, as well as the brick facades of the warehouses and the cranes and the steel hulls of the docked ships which used to tower over the city.

Created by Raupach Architects and Stauss Pedrazzini Industrial Design with lighting from Pfarré Lighting Design, the station’s look is heavily rooted in the life of the harbour and the industrial nature of the environment.

With a heavy use of steel, light, colour and reflection, a powerful ambience has been created by hanging twelve metal-framed glass boxes in repetition over the middle of the platforms, each weighing six tons and each with the exact dimensions of a standard shipping container (6.5m x 2.8m x 2.8m). The translucent panels between the sharply defined frames are lit with 289 individual RGB LED emitters placed inside each capsule. To illuminate the platform with evenly distributed warm-white light, the underside of each container has been made of matt-white glass.

The units have been designed to change colour en masse and signal the arrival or imminent departure of a train and the colours can be coordinated and controlled in individual sections to synchronise with the seasons.

The lights change at a relaxed rate and are engineered so as not to be bombastic and resemble entertainment lighting, yet both the atmosphere and the spatial experience created by the colours is extremely powerful.

All the entrance areas to the station and the ticket halls are illuminated with fluorescent cove lighting systems in order to sharpen their architectural concept and the recessed metal halide downlights in the ticket halls are ERCO Lightcast 35W luminaires.

The containers, created by Alexander Weckmer Licht, are custom-made and equipped with 280 LED RGB nodes per container equaling 1100W. “The shipping container perfectly matches the busy harbour above,” says Gerd Pfarré of Pfarré Lighting Design who won a competition to take part in the project.

“The architect’s idea to clad all the walls and ceilings with steel also matched the typical material used in the construction of ships and cranes. We wanted to design a station in correspondence to the site, not another ‘add-on design’ to a subway station.”

Initially Pfarré wanted to design the containers so it was possible, via a catwalk style passage, for commuters to walk through them and experience the light inside.

“The colour changing system was from the beginning a key feature of the lighting design concept,” says Pfarré. “We wanted to create smooth magical reflections of coloured light on the steel surfaces.”

The plan was not to devise a lighting design that entertained, but the intention of the chosen colours was to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere, a space for contemplation.

There is an obvious contrast between the evenly lit platform, its lighting functional and crafted only with the benefit and safety of commuters in mind, and the decorative creativity that can be seen above this. It is a fitting contrast though, an attempt to blend the unusual and the magical with the drudgery and the normality of the everyday. The inter-changeable nature of the colours is an attempt at brightening countless commutes, something to differentiate the ten trips weekday workers will make through the station complex. This lighting design is, in part, best defined as a weekday pick-me-up.

The original brief didn’t specifically ask for a show of innovative imagination though. “The design brief was to create functional lighting for the platform, according to German norms for subway stations,” Pfarré says. “There was no other brief or particular interest from the client’s side.”

After working on Munich’s Westfriedhof Station, with Ingo Maurer, during the early 1990s, Pfarré knew from experience what kind of design he wanted to produce. “I wanted to use coloured lighting with a sense, a meaning,” he says. “Light that makes you happy while you are waiting, that reflects the season, or is related to the  time of day.”

Once he had produced a scheme that satisfied these aims, all that remained was to sell a vibrant and exciting design to a client who had requested the functional and accepted norms of previous stations. “The toughest challenge was to convince the client’s project manager and the person responsible for lighting,” Pfarré says. “No other challenge in my career has been so tough.”

This problem, of course, was amiably overcome and the project was completed in November 2012, with the station meeting with the approval and appreciation of the commuters who have used it.

“Coloured light is extremely powerful, so you should handle it with great care and sensibility,” Pfarré concludes, summing up the potency of his design. “Dynamic coloured lighting is even more powerful; it is important to create smooth, slow rhythms of colour changes, something akin to the considered approach heard in classical music.”

The creation of a design that is planned and crafted to be an accompaniment to a space, while effecting the senses at the same time, is a tightrope walk. It is very difficult not, in such a case, to produce something that overpowers and dominates in an attempt to succeed in its aims. What is instead achieved here is subtlety and a restrained approach.

“Bridging the gap from entertainment lighting to an overall sensual experience is not easy,” says Pfarré. “We wanted to create an experience which might expand your perception and touch your soul.”

This lighting design will attract the eye of the weary commuter away from a tablet screen or a morning paper, but this project is more than that, it is a homage to an industrious past which built a city on the back of a shipping container.


Related Articles


Follow us on…

Follow Mondo Arc Magazine on Twitter Follow Mondo Arc Magazine on Facebook Follow Mondo Arc Magazine on Linked In

mondo arc india

darc awards DWLF IALD PLDC LRO