Construction Halted at Elbtower

Manuel Pestalozzi
8. November 2023
Elbtower is to be 245 meters, but construction work was interrupted at around 100 meters at the end of October. (Photo: Uwe Rohwedder/Wikimedia Commons)

If and when it is completed, David Chipperfield Architects' Elbtower will rise 245 meters, a crown in the renaissance of the Hanseatic City's port area. At the beginning of 2018, the then-First Mayor, now-Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and other parties involved unveiled the architectural design during a ceremony. Critiques of the project were quick. In 2019, the SPD and Green parliamentary groups in the Hamburg State Parliament surprisingly demanded new commitments from the developer, financier René Benko and his Signa Group. It was about rental agreements to be concluded in advance, preventing the city from bearing any risk should the investor collapse under the weight of the task. The now-chancellor is said to have affirmed, when the contract was signed: zero risk for the city!

The fears of the risk-averse have now come true: At 100 meters, the tower's construction has been “stopped for the time being,” as reported by Tagesschau on October 27. The reason given was a lack of payments from the Signa Group. In the days that followed, it became increasingly clear that the Austrian entrepreneur's empire was under serious threat, with Benko handing over Sigma to a restructuring expert.

Elbtower will be the crowning transformation of Hamburg's port area. (Visualization: David Chipperfield Architects)

The search for solutions for finishing the tower has been hectic. Hamburg politicians publicly expressed hope that logistics entrepreneur and Signa shareholder Klaus-Michael Kühne could step into the breach in the project. “This is completely absurd and fictitious; people are trying to force an Elbtower commitment on me,” Kühne told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

It is unclear what will happen next. In an October 30 press release, city development senator Karen Pein (SPD) referred to possible contractual penalties and explained that Hamburg expects the construction project to be completed in accordance with the deadlines and characteristics agreed in the purchase contract. The planning and construction contracts would allow the City of Hamburg, among other things, to dismantle the construction work carried out to date, sell it to a third party for completion, or complete the construction itself, according to the press release.

This headline was first published as “Baustopp beim Elbtower” on German-Architects. English translation edited by John Hill.

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