Zaha Hadid Architects has transformed an old fire station in Antwerp into new port headquarters topped with a sparkling symbol of progress. The competition-winning design blends the renowned architecture firm’s futuristic designs with historic preservation, and it achieved a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating. 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 is a “sustainable and future-proof workplace” that replaced a series of 1990s offices around the city that 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 tons of goods via 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 with a proposal that combines 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 unrealized 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