Winner of German Design Award

Offenbach Harbour


We are delighted for having been awarded “Winner”, for our expertise in design and planning by the German Design Award 2018, in the category Urban Space and Infrastructure.
The Jury evaluated our expertise on the basis of our open-space concept at Offenbach Harbour, situated on the River Main, where an industrial peninsula is being converted into a new sustainable city district. Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl has transformed the initial urban plan by reconnecting public open spaces with their scenic context, creating a liveable as well as ecologically enriching neighbourhood. The site offers different qualities of space, such as a bustling central plaza, a spectacular park at the tip of the peninsula or a unique playground nestled in a neighbourhood park.
This project is one of the great examples of implementing great design into built reality. The collaboration with our client Mainviertel Offenbach GmbH & Co. KG was of central importance to achieve this.
 
Offenbach Harbour: A Former Industrial Harbour Reimagined
The former industrial harbour of Offenbach, a city by the River Main approximately 5km upstream from the historic city centre of Frankfurt, Germany, is blessed with an advantageous location and scenery. Surrounded by water, a new city district is being created. The urban planning concept envisions the strong connection to the water and the existing city, as well as the experience of the rough harbour past as basic design principles. The plaza by the harbour is certainly the centrepiece of the development, supporting the rejuvenation of the industrial site through a mix of retail, housing and office spaces, and positively enhancing the adjacent Nordend neighbourhood through the addition of new, publicly accessible blue-green open spaces.
 
Unique Site Context and Location
Offenbach Harbour has the potential to become one of the most exciting, new urban developments, throughout the state of Hessen. The site’s location is a key factor. The project site offers a high quality of life for residents, with optimal access and public transport connectivity. Noise and pollution levels are reduced and it’s a convenient 20 minutes bike ride to the Frankfurt city centre along the river Main.
The city of Offenbach has a distinct opportunity to present itself as modern, sustainable, creative and environmentally friendly. The rough charm of the former industrial harbour – with its large, rusted steel construction remnants and a towering steel crane - is a unique identifier that recalls the site’s industrial roots along the water’s edge.  
 
Industrial Past with Plans for the Future
Historically Offenbach Harbour served as a transit point for oil, gas and coal since the early 1900s, but lost its importance in the 1990s. A lengthy planning process began in search of a new concept for utilising the space. The first urban plans were laid out in 2004 by Ortner + Ortner for a mixed use development of residences and offices, which commenced construction in 2008 yet difficulties of bringing the project to the market and finding dedicated investors led to costly delays. In 2007  a fresh look on the urban design through Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl and a positive market development brought the break-through in the development. Since then there are continuously cranes on the site and construction is ongoing.
 
Design Approach: Creating People-Friendly Open Spaces
We saw challenges as opportunities, joining the redevelopment effort of Offenbach Harbour with the desire to bring forward the presence, significance and capability of water to be a powerful, positive spatial enhancer within the urban realm. Open spaces are strategically located throughout the peninsula, creating visually stunning, open views to the waterfront. Our basic concept was that citizens should be able to see and experience the River Main – or, at the very least, be able to imagine its rich forms and patterns upon approach of the harbour area. A main challenge for this plaza was balancing the creation of a smartly oriented public gathering area that invited and drew people in, while remaining active, maintained and functional, limiting large, non-usable space creation. The northern edges of the plaza are programmed with interactive play areas whereas the south is more commercial in character, providing a plaza space supporting the retail shopping centre land use adjacent.
The previous master plan oriented the primary gesture of the main harbour front plaza at the head of the river away from the waterfront edge. Instead, we opted to open up the space and embrace the harbour waters through the creation of graceful, wide, wave-shaped steps gently sloping and draining towards the water.
These undulating wave-like steps that are representative of the rhythm of waves are spreading over the plaza as key feature. In the early stages of the project, we had conceptualised the idea to create a stage set on the water, using the steps as generous seating for spectators.  While concepts for a harbour swimming pool or an indentation into the harbour’s edge were not possible to realise, by limiting obstruction along key visual axis and freeing views from the “Nordend” area of the site towards the water, our goal of creating physical and mental connections with the River Main has been accomplished.
 
Another focal, the main harbour plaza opens towards the River Main instead of ‘turning its back’ to the waterfront, as in the previous urban layout. The concept for the plaza was to create the sensation, while crossing the plaza space, that people were stepping on a peninsula. This approach required modifying the recently approved construction plan, a task which can typically prove to be difficult. However, the holistic approach to positively enhance the open space system for residents convinced both the client and local politicians of the proposal’s liveability quality. The results of this controversial effort are visible today as the main plaza is the central gathering space and activated through extensive use.
 
Industrial Past Integrated through Materials and Elements
In addition to preserving the old crane as a heritage element, weaving the story of the harbour’s historical working past into the new development was important and inspired our choice of building materials - rough, robust and durable were key factors. We selected natural, large format cobble stones, ‘rusting’ metal for walls and railings, and textured cement and mastic concrete for pedestrian pavement. Plaza lighting features were developed based upon a standard eight metre high construction beam and populated with sustainable LED equipment.
 
Positive Effects for Adjacent Developments
The Nordend area, bordering the Offenbach Harbour redevelopment, is located at the edge of the city centre, and is demographically composed with a higher percentage of people with a migrant background. Concerns of gentrification and the negative effect of new development regarding rental prices and displacement, aim to be abated through the thoughtful integration of civic oriented spaces and facilities for both neighbourhoods to utilise. New job opportunities have been created. One of the first buildings constructed was a new school, completed in early 2014, built at the edge transition between Nordend and Offenbach, promoting further integration of the two neighbourhoods. The renewed plaza and park areas in Offenbach Harbour have similarly inspired the revitalisation of urgently needed public spaces in the dense city district of Nordend. The area between the buildings of Nordend and the northern bypass road, previously a largely paved road and parking area, has been converted into a multifunctional public space where pedestrians take precedence over cars. The new Main Gardens, located directly adjacent to the water, are also available to inhabitants of Nordend. The "Upper Molenpark ", a classic neighbourhood park, connects the residential areas of Nordend with the River Main and the harbour waterfront. Three infiltration planters cleanse the surface runoff water from the roads before it flows over a surface runnel (located within the street right-of-way) and into the river. Sustainable elements of the project are made visible, tangible examples for integrating sustainability in the urban fabric. Biodiversity levels continue to improve as the area develops. Biotopes provide new habitats for insects and butterflies as well as thermophilic flora.
 
Offenbach Harbour: Current Work and Development
The mixed-use development is a long-term endeavour. Open spaces continue to be take shape as residences and offices are phased for completion. The park at the tip of the peninsula has been designed as a spectacular dune-landscape. Standing in the location of the future green area while looking towards Frankfurt, one is surrounded by the physical presence as well as the sound of the harbour waters; this will be a unique open space and highlight for the overall development. Prior to its current development, the space served a temporary public open space function as a popular beach club, to be reappropriated after the buildings were completed. Further temporary uses were activated by the Mainviertel Offenbach GmbH & Co. KG as opportunities for recreation and spontaneous social interaction began to take place; the results include the establishment of an urban community garden which was widely accepted by the residents, becoming a successful example of an integration project able to draw citizens towards the water and enjoy the new spaces. The liveliness of these projects coupled with the dynamics of the urban development in Offenbach bear a promising future for the coming years and a good basis for a socially successful and integrated project.