Project Magdeburg

Living alongside and with the Elbe

Magdeburg aims to gain a profile as a riverside city and is reclaiming the Elbe as a cultural and residential area. Three examples show how, within the context of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, Saxony-Anhalt’s capital city can regain the Elbe and its banks as both urban and rural space. While the river was formerly almost inaccessible in many places because of factories, railway, and harbour buildings cluttering its banks, it is now an important point of reference for urban development.


The city and the river Elbe will once again come together in the centre. In the south, the emphasis is on returning the brownfield sites of the former heavy engineering works to nature and upgrading the old district centres. In the north, concentration will be on town functions and encourage firms which are scientific and future-oriented. Magdeburg is improving its urban environment along the Elbe in a dialogue with the river. This includes the use of balanced measures, which take the dwindling population and the existing economic difficulties into consideration, and creative land management that comes to terms with the central challenges of urban redevelopment.

At the launch of the IBA projects, the housing sector and, first and foremost, the future of the historic centre were the main issues when considering urban development. Because of its important armaments industry, Magdeburg was the target of heavy air raids carried out by Allied forces during World War I. By 1945, about 90% of the old city had been destroyed. Reconstruction was carried out according to the changing fashions in town planning in the GDR. The most important cultural historical buildings such as Magdeburg Cathedral, the “Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen” monastery, and the town hall were rebuilt. Some sectors of the banks of the Elbe in the city centre were turned into open public spaces. The southern part of the city centre, marked by its early history, including the cathedral, the cathedral square, the “Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen” monastery as well as the late-19th-century buildings, became the focus of interest of inner-city development in the 1990s. In 1991, the city council issued a preservation order that was later expanded in scope to include one fifth of the historic centre.


Within the framework of the IBA project, the old city has strengthened its links to the river. The site of the Elbe station, a former freight station on the riverbank, has been opened up for new urban infrastructure development. On the promenade along what for a long time was derelict land, the banks of the Elbe invite residents and visitors alike to linger awhile. Der Zeitzähler (time meter), a work of art by Gloria Friedmann, was installed here as part of the art project “DIE ELBE [in] between.” The project, run by the Magdeburg art museum between 2006 and 2008, was a sister project to the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010. Similarly, one result of the art project was a neon sculpture by Maurizio Nannucci, which was erected in 2008 on a nearby railway lift bridge. In the evenings a message shines out from both sides of the bridge : “Von so weit her bis hier hin—von hier aus noch viel weiter” (From so far away to here—from here to much further out). In 2009 ,the town square acquired a special design element in the form of an Elbe viewing platform that overhangs the wall on the riverbank by about 3.4 metres.

Additionally, sections of the former fortifications were re-established as part of the IBA project. In the 18th century, Magdeburg had been fortified to become one of the strongest Prussian fortresses. The Lukasklause (part of the city’s defences) was converted into the Guericke centre and is used for exhibitions, educational purposes, and functions. Furthermore, the main features of the Kavalier Scharnhorst fortifications can still be seen, even though the moats were filled in during the 1920s. These fortifications at Sternbrückendamm have been partially opened up, and the well-preserved upper part of the battlements is now visible. It is hoped in this way to encourage Magdeburg’s citizens to identify with their city and history and to draw visitor attention to the attractions of the city. As a sister project of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, the Cleve bastion in the vicinity of the cathedral was laid open between 2005 and 2008 and refurbished as an events location.


The south-east of Magdeburg is another focus of IBA activities, this time under the banner “Less City—More Countryside.” In the 1990s, the area to the south of the city, which had a long tradition of heavy engineering, experienced a dramatic decline in this industry. Moreover, major traffic projects such as the construction of the A 14 motorway and the Magdeburger Kreuz interchange with the A 2 in the year 2000, the Magdeburg Water Bridge (2003) and the harbour facilities at Rothensee also shifted the economic focus to the north. The south-east of the city therefore consists of a heterogeneous townscape of brownfield sites, sub-areas used commercially or for industry, as well as residential estates and historic centres. The objective of the IBA’s efforts was to renaturise the areas no longer used and to upgrade the residential centres by strengthening their links to the Elbe. A prerequisite for this is intelligent land management that takes monument protection considerations into account, clears contaminated sites, and considers the standard value for real estate. The upgrading of this area poses many problems as all the owners have little interest in their land, other than for marketing it, which is difficult, given the lack of demand for land. In addition, the city of Magdeburg is financially not in a position to pay upfront for improving the wastelands. Even temporary uses are also very difficult to find. Single projects such as the Salbke bookmark, a citizens’ library, and the new uses of the grounds at the Salbke water tower illustrate, however, that strongly committed citizens can achieve success.


Whereas the south is supposed to acquire more countryside, the north is to have “more city.” So the area of the old commercial port and the adjacent areas of the old “new town” are meant to have predominantly urban uses. Now that the port is hardly used anymore, the nearly 1000-metre long harbour basin now forms the centre of the “Magdeburg Science Port”. Since 2007, a think tank, the “Denkfabrik,” has occupied a former storage building just north of the newly built Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF). In addition, a private investor is building new research and office premises on the banks of the Elbe. However, there are still some logistics companies and an asphalt mixing plant in the docks area which will have to be relocated during the development of the science port. To raise the profile of the science port further, its ties with the adjacent campus of the Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg and the Max Planck Institute are to be strengthened. To this end, Magdeburg held an international architecture competition, which was won in January 2010 for a design by SMAQ architects from Berlin. It embraces the heterogeneous structures in four diverse areas and skilfully integrates them into the existing road network. Moreover, the concept offers multifaceted uses in the individual districts and found a convincing solution for dealing carefully with the existing buildings.

Ingrid Reuter, 2010

More pictures of Magdeburg


Info: Magdeburg

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 290.152
2009: 229.672
2025: 208.272 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 200,97 qkm

IBA-Website of Magdeburg