Ulrike Rau knows exactly how she'd like to live privately. “Brick is my thing – and exposed concrete. I would move to the Speicherstadt in an instant if living there would be possible,” says the architecture graduate. Preferably – no doubt – to block M28/29, which she herself is responsible for, as the project manager tasked with redesigning and restructuring its central engine room. The block will feature precisely that combination of old red bricks and new exposed concrete elements.
A new building in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site requires special sensitivity. The architectural solution is therefore a very special one.
The Speicherstadt historical warehouse district, where she has worked in HHLA Real Estate's construction department since 2017, is Ulrike Rau's dream project. “This is hard to top, and it's a wonderful challenge. I’m excited by this very special task, to be able to work on such an important city landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quite different priorities apply here than with a new construction, like over in HafenCity."
It may not look like it from a distance, but every block, every floor in the Speicherstadt is different. At first, Ulrike Rau had the feeling that all the warehouse blocks were similar. “Only when you go deeper do you see the differences in detail. All the warehouses are actually different. As we renovate and refurbish them, we have to maintain and elaborate on these differences. That's the challenge, especially when you're working with external planners and companies: to pass on this information and make sure they understand and incorporate it. But that’s what makes this work so interesting. You never stop learning. Every week, we deal with new issues and start asking new questions.”
After finishing school, Ulrike Rau first learnt to be a carpenter; she has always enjoyed working with her hands. “I'm attracted to the practical side of things, creating something useful that you can see and touch.”
But once she finished her training, she wanted more. She studied in Hanover and moved to Hamburg in 2005, where she worked as a planner in various planning offices. 12 years later, she decided that she wanted to switch to “the other side in the same area of work” and joined HHLA.
There she plans, controls costs, evaluates performance levels and coordinates appointments between planners and contractors, all while vigorously representing the interests of her company “to make sure we get what HHLA ordered.”
That’s another major difference to working at an architecture firm, according to Rau. “We restructure existing buildings not to sell them, but to continue using them based on our principles. In the process, we look very closely to see that what we incorporate makes sense in the long term.”
Even if numbers, tables and organisation make up the majority of her work, Ulrike Rau’s commitment is also based on an overarching idea: “I am firmly convinced that buildings are an important part of our living environment, and that they have an influence on us. That’s why what we do with them is so important.”
They have a lot to say – from the port, from the past, from their day-to-day work or from abroad.