A sparkling symbol of progress has descended on the roof of Antwerp’s newly inaugurated Port House, a former fire station that Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) renovated into the new port headquarters that’s achieved a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating. The competition-winning design blends the renowned architecture firm’s futuristic designs with historic preservation by topping the existing building with a modern structure. The modern addition reflects the changing colors of the water and sky and mimics the shape of a ship’s bow pointing towards Scheldt, the river on which Antwerp was founded.
The new Port House in Antwerp was created as a “sustainable and future-proof workplace” replacement for the former 1990s offices scattered around the city that had housed the port’s 500 staff. The need for expansion and consolidation came as no surprise—Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, transporting more than 200 million tonnes of goods via the ocean-going vessels and providing direct employment for over 60,000 people. The City and Port authorities selected a historic disused fire station on Mexico Island in Antwerp’s Kattendijk dock on Quay 63, citing significant sustainable construction benefits due to the ability to transport building materials over water.
ZHA won the city’s architecture competition for the new design thanks to its proposal that combined the modern design with detailed historical research and analysis. Instead of adding the extension as a neighboring volume, ZHA placed the new volume on top like a crown so as to preserve the building’s four elevations. “These 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,” write the architects. “With constant references to the Scheldt, the city of Antwerp and the dynamics of its port, married with the successful renovation and reuse of a redundant fire station – integrating it as a fully-fledged part of its headquarters – the new Port House will serve the port well through its planned expansion over future generations.”
The new extension is clad in triangular glazed panels that reflect different parts of the surrounding sky and water for a shimmering effect. Some of the triangular facets are transparent to allow sunlight to enter the building and to control solar load. The facade’s sparkling appearance is a nod to Antwerp’s moniker as the city of diamonds and changes its appearance depending on the time of day. Glass is also used for the new roof of the old fire station’s courtyard. The renovated building and extension prioritize energy efficiency and include a borehole energy system, chilled ceilings, building automation, and waterless lavatory fittings that helped the project reach a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating.
Images via Zaha Hadid Architects, by Hufton+Crow and Tim Fisher