Zaha Hadid’s Antwerp Vision Brought to Fruition
If you’re walking around the Port of Antwerp, you may do a double-take if you spot the new Port House, what 500 workers running Europe’s second-largest shipping hub call home. That’s because it’s the latest complete project from Zaha Hadid Architects. Standing out among the rest of the stately Hanseatic buildings, the new headquarters consist of a giant crystalline cocoon atop an old fire station.
When the city and port authorities decided their hub needed an upgrade in 2007, they decided to relocate to a central location that could fit their entire staff. Yet, the pre-existing building and location presented some design challenges. So the Flemish government’s department of architecture and the city and port authorities organized a design competition for the new headquarters. (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, with the firm using a heritage consultant in the restoration and renovation process. 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, and 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 references 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, says that the new structure “… represents a new golden century for Antwerp.”
With 7.5 miles of docks, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, handling 26 percent of its container shipping. —Relaxnews