Port House, Antwerp Gets a New Look by Zaha Hadid Architects
Europe’s Second Largest Port Unveiled Its Hip Sky-Piercing Extension
Zaha Hadid Architects recently completed the new Port House in Antwerp, which repurposes, renovates and extends a derelict fire station into a new HQ for the port. The new building, inaugurated on 22nd September, brings together the port’s 500 staff that previously worked in separate buildings around the city.
With docks spanning a total of 12km, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, servicing 15k sea trade ships and 60k inland barges on an annual basis. Antwerp handles 26% of Europe’s container shipping, transporting over 200M tonnes of goods via ocean-crossing vessels and providing direct employment for more than 600k people, including over 8k port workers. On top of that, the Port of Antwerp also indirectly ensures about 150k jobs and has some very ambitious targets for future expansion, meant to meet the continent’s growth and development over the next century.
Following the construction of a new fire station with facilities needed to service the expanding port, the old fire station on the Mexico Island site became redundant and relied on repurposing in order to ensure its preservation as a listed replica of a Hanseatic residence. An architectural competition was organised by the Flemish government together with the City and Port authorities, and Zaha Hadid Architects was the firm ultimately selected to design and deliver.
According to Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Antwerp, “there was only one rule laid down in the architectural competition, namely that the original building had to be preserved”. Working with Origin (leading heritage consultants in renovation and restoration), ZHA’s studies of the site’s history and heritage represent the foundations of the design, which firstly emphasises the north-south site axis parallel with the Kattendijkdok linking the city centre to the port. Given its water surroundings, the building’s four elevations are considered of equal important and bear no principal façade. ZHA’s design is an elevated extension, rather than a neighbouring volume which would have ended up concealing at least one of the existing facades. On top of that, the historical importance of the old fire station and the role of its originally intended tower could not be overlooked either.
Thus three key principles define the design’s composition of new and old: a new volume that ‘floats’ above the old building, respecting each of the old facades and completing the verticality of the original design’s unrealised tower.
Surrounded by water, the new extension’s façade is a glazed surface that ripples like waves and reflects the changing tones and colours of the city’s sky. Triangular facets allow the smooth curves at either end of the building to be formed with flat sheets of glass. They also facilitate the gradual transition from a flat façade at the south end of the building to a rippling surface at the north.
The old fire station’s central courtyard has been enclosed with a glass roof and is transformed into the main reception area for the new Port House. From this central atrium, visitors can access the public reading room and library within the disused fire truck hall, which has been carefully restored and preserved. Panoramic lifts provide direct access to the new extension, offering stunning views of the city and port.
The design also integrates essential client requirements for an ‘activity based office’, such as a restaurant, meeting rooms and an auditorium located at the centre of the upper levels of the existing building, as well as on the bottom floors of the new extension. Open plan office sprawl efficiently over the remaining floors.
Collaborating with services consultant Ingenium, ZHA developed a sustainable and energy-efficient design that was given a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating. Despite the challenges of integrating with a protected historic building, the firm achieved high standards of sustainable design by implementing effective strategies throughout each stage of the construction – including a borehole energy system that uses chilled beams in the old building and chilled ceilings in the extension.
Marc Van Peel stated: “The architectural style of the original building, a replica of the former Hansa House, recalls the 16th century, Antwerp’s ‘golden century’. But now, above this original, a contemporary structure in shining glass has been built, which I am sure, represents a new golden century for Antwerp.” (Source: Zaha Hadid Architects)