The new Port House in Antwerp repurposes, renovates and extends a derelict fire station into a new headquarters for the port – bringing together the port’s 500 staff that previously worked in separate buildings around the city.
The Flemish government’s department of architecture, together with the City and Port authorities organized the architectural competition for the Port’s new headquarters.
As the threshold between the city and its vast port, Mexico Island in Antwerp’s Kattendijk dock on Quay 63 was selected as the site for the new head office. The old fire station on the Mexico Island site – a listed replica of a Hanseatic residence – had to be integrated into the new project.
Zaha Hadid Architects’ design is informed by detailed historical research and a thorough analysis of both the site and the existing building.
Due to its location surrounded by water, the building’s four elevations are considered of equal importance with no principal facade. ZHA’s design is an elevated extension, rather than a neighbouring volume which would have concealed at least one of the existing facades. Historic analysis of the old fire station also highlighted the role of its originally intended tower – a grand, imposing component of the fire station’s Hanseatic design, which was never built.
Like the bow of a ship, the new extension points towards the Scheldt, connecting the building with the river on which Antwerp was founded.
Surrounded by water, the new extension’s facade is a glazed surface that ripples like waves and reflects the changing tones and colours of the city’s sky.
Alternating transparent and opaque facade panels ensure sufficient sunlight within the building, while also controlling solar load to guarantee optimal working conditions. At the same time, they visually break down the volume of the new extension, giving panoramic views of the Scheldt, the city and the Port as well as providing enclosure.
The perception of a transparent volume, cut to give the new building its sparkling appearance, reinterprets Antwerp’s moniker as the city of diamonds. The new extension appears as a carefully cut form which changes its appearance with the shifting intensity of daylight. Like the ripples on the surface of the water in the surrounding port, the new facade reflects changing light conditions.
The old fire station’s central courtyard has been enclosed with a glass roof and is transformed into the main reception area for the new Port House. From this central atrium, visitors access the historic public reading room and library within the disused fire truck hall which has been carefully restored and preserved. Panoramic lifts provide direct access to the new extension with an external bridge between the existing building and new extension giving panoramic views of the city and port.
The client requirements for an ‘activity based office’ are integrated within the design, with related areas such as the restaurant, meeting rooms and auditorium located at the centre of the upper levels of the existing building and the bottom floors of the new extension. The remaining floors more remote from the centre, comprise open plan offices.