Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for the newly inaugurated Port House, Antwerp is a blend of historical reverence and an evocative vision of the future.
Belgium’s Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, handling 26 percent of the continent’s container shipping but it lacked a central headquarters for its staff. The Flemish government’s department of architecture and the City and Port authorities thus organized a design competition for the new head office. The only requisite was that it preserve the fire station that was originally there.
The basis of Zaha Hadid Architects’ winning design was historical research, and follows a joint effort with a heritage consultant in the restoration and renovation of historic monuments. The elevated extension crowns the fire station 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, in which 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.