Antwerp, Sept 29, 2016 — With 12km of docks, Antwerp, Belgium is Europe’s second largest shipping port, handling 26 per cent of Europe’s container shipping. The newly inaugurated Port House in Antwerp, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, repurposes and reimagines a former fire station as its headquarters.
The port’s staff of 500 worked in separate buildings throughout the city. In 2007, a centralized relocation was decided upon: Antwerp’s Kattendijk dock on Quay 63.
The Flemish government’s department of architecture and the City and Port authorities organized a design competition for this head office. The preservation of the original fire station was the sole requisite. (Of the five shortlisted candidates, all proposed a modern structure above the original building to preserve it.)
Zaha Hadid Architects’ winning design was informed by historical research, and working with a heritage consultant in the restoration and renovation of historic monuments. The elevated extension crowns the building below in a clever juxtaposition of new volume and old Hanseatic design.
The old fire station’s central courtyard is enclosed with a glass roof; visitors can access a public reading room and library. The new extension provides panoramic views of the city and port. Its exterior has a glazed surface that reflects the changing tones of the sky. Triangular facets, a mix of transparent and opaque, ensure sufficient sunlight, and make reference to Antwerp’s reputation as the city of diamonds.
The new building is an active professional space with meeting rooms, open-plan offices, an auditorium, and a restaurant. Sustainable and energy-efficient design choices (reaching a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating) minimize water consumption and maximize daylight.
If the original structure preserves Antwerp’s “golden century” in the 1500s, Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Antwerp, said: “now above this original, a contemporary structure in shining glass has been built, which I am sure represents a new golden century for Antwerp.”
This structure is among over 30 projects that were under development at the time of studio founder Zaha Hadid’s death earlier this year. On the other side of the world, the vast Nanjing International Youth Cultural Centre is reaching its final stages of construction in China; completion is anticipated later this year. The 465,000-square-meter complex is on the riverfront of Nanjing’s new central business district. It comprises two glazed skyscrapers, which morph out of a perforated concrete base. The taller tower (68 floors) will contain offices and a five-star hotel; the shorter one (59 floors) will host a second hotel and conference centre.