An entirely new class of wood

The number of inhabitants in Hamburg is steadily increasing. This is also due to the large number of students who find the best conditions here. In the not-too-distant future, the academics can settle down in a dormitory that is called “Woodie” and constructed almost entirely of wood. The project is being financed by HSH Nordbank, which has excellent expertise in this special form of housing. Woodie’s builders, Torsten Rieckmann and Achim Nagel, know to value the custom financing.

These approximately 20 square meters of living space make students excited about their studies. The floor, ceiling, and walls are not made out of stone but rather from chic, light-colored solid wood – which means they give off the cozy charm of a wooden house like the ones that can often be found in Nordic countries.

The furniture, including the bed and desk, is made out of the same wood. Because ecological thoughts come first and foremost, the floor is made of natural rubber. Add a small pantry and a shower bath, and the student apartment is done.

Stacked like an oversized Lego construction

Inspection site: At first glance, it looks like an unremarkable container, one of millions sailing across the ocean every day. The rectangle is part of a project that is unique to date. A completely new type of student dormitory – and also the largest wooden building in Hamburg – is being built from 371 of these modules. Its name: “Woodie”, taken from its main construction material.

The individual modules are stacked on top of each other, like in an oversized Lego construction, and screwed together. They offer maximum flexibility because they can also be merged. Only the ground floor, the roof, and the elevator shafts are made of concrete, and that is for fire safety reasons.

Size is a problem

The market for student apartments is tightest in these cities*

The market for student apartments is tightest in these cities*


* A scarcity index has been created for the student apartment market in 91 cities. It can reach a maximum of 100 points. For the analysis, 23 factors ranging from prices for shared flats to the real estate listings, the development of the number of students and those in their first semester and the age structure of the inhabitants to the attractiveness of the university and city for domestic and international students were studied.

Source: GBI AG

The entire structure rises six floors into the sky of Hamburg’s neighborhood Wilhelmsburg. Only nine minutes away from Hamburg’s main station with the city train, this up-and-coming neighborhood is where the investors Torsten Rieckmann, managing partner of the company Senectus Capital GmbH, and Achim Nagel, managing partner of the company Primus GmbH, are building their first joint project.

A nursing home and a medical center have already been built in the immediate vicinity. Always on board: HSH Nordbank. “We have come to value HSH Nordbank as a very reliable and engaged financier that addresses our needs,” says co-investor Rieckmann. Especially where development and financing student apartments is concerned, HSH Nordbank almost has a monopoly on the market with its expertise.

HSH Nordbank has had a good reputation as a financing partner for student housing and other micro-residential complexes for a long time. Peter Axmann is in charge of the real estate customer business of the bank and reports calls from interested project developers, operators, and investors from across the country. They value the experience the experts have gathered in past years while financing quite a number of similar objects. “We were one of the first institutes to finance this special type of housing. We know almost every project from the last 20 years and all the large developers as well.” The portfolio volume of temporary housing is rather small compared with the one for office, retail, and residential property - which accounts for about 80 percent at HSH Nordbank - but it is continually growing and is an important niche in a well-diversified portfolio, according to Axmann.

Bank customer Rieckmann traveled across Germany to sound out the market for student housing. He inspected about 20 houses that belong to this special type of housing. Along the way, he learned that many have become modern, having lost their dubious charm from the last century. But there was no building made almost entirely of wood.

An important aspect of building with wooden modules is the considerable reduction in construction time. “We will be able to finish Woodie in ten months, which is about half the time needed for conventional construction methods. Additionally, the modules are ready for occupancy and sealed when they are delivered from the assembly line, which means there will be marginal removal of defects and handover,” says co-investor Achim Nagel. This was the only way to guarantee that people could move into Woodie for the winter semester of 2017 in the first place.

3, 2, 1 ... done!

Development of number of students (in millions) in the winter semesters from 2007/2008 until 2015/2016

Development of number of students (in millions) in the winter semesters from 2007/2008 until 2015/2016


Source: Federal Statistical Office of Germany

But the pioneers Nagel and Rieckmann decided to use this material for other reasons as well. “Wood is durable, offers good sound insulation, and helps protect the climate,” Rieckmann explains. The twelve-centimeter-thick solid wood walls of the individual modules and an additional wood facade provide the best heat insulation values and prevent mold from forming period – and they also fulfill the KfW 55 standard.

The investors found the suppliers for the modules in Austria. The company Kaufmann Bausysteme in Bregenz Forest produces the apartments with a shower bath, kitchenette, bed, and desk and mounts them on a reinforced concrete base. Two of the ready-to-inhabit living spaces fit on a truck, which brings them to Hamburg.

The design for the student dormitory comes from the Berlin architects at Sauerbruch Hutton, who also designed the new building for the Department of Urban Planning and Housing, which was finished in 2013 in the neighboring building. Another architecture pro is there: Building Director of Hamburg Jörn Walter. He praises the Woodie project as being “unique, innovative, and custom-made.”

“The business is too involved for many other banks”

The financing for the 37-million-euro project, which is based on a ten-year loan, is also custom-made. Co-investor Rieckmann: “HSH Nordbank understands not only the project financing business, but also knows the particularities that need to be considered for student housing. The business is too complicated or involved for many other banks.”

Woodie is a model for a market that has been growing for years. This is also due to the increasing number of foreign students who, not least, appreciate that the public universities in this country do not charge tuition fees. In total, the number of students in Germany recently climbed to a record high at about 2.8 million.

Peter Axmann sees even more reasons for keen interest in micro-apartments: “Not only students and apprentices but also singles and professionals who commute home on the weekend are looking for small apartments in metropolises. The demand is therefore high, and the supply is by no means sufficient.”

All-around packages for students

Woodie provides all the services students expect today. Co-investor Rieckmann knows from experience that the most important thing is fast Internet. That is why a 100 Mbit connection was laid. Usage is included in the warm rent, of course. In the “Woodietorium”, which is the communal lounge, the students can communicate with one another. There are also a DHL package station, 400 bicycle parking spots, 20 car parking spots, and a “laundry lounge”. A nearby car sharing provider completes the offer. “Woodie offers an all-round package with an ecologically clean conscience,” says HSH Nordbank Real Estate Manager Axmann.