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Antwerp Port House

The design for the new building was chosen on the basis of an international architectural competition. Designed by the renowned Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the spectacular structure is suspended on two pillars above the historic building. The Antwerp Port Authority needed a new headquarters and wanted to bring all its staff, currently distributed across several buildings, together under a single roof. Zaha Hadid’s concept proposed a 46-meterhigh and 111-meter-long structure as an on-top addition to the listed Hansa House that would provide space for 500 employees.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-03-Helene-Binet-759x601 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hélène Binet

“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. 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.” – Zaha Hadid Architects

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-06-Hufton_Crow-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

The new Port House, the headquarters of Antwerp Port Authority, will become an architectural icon that dominates the Antwerp skyline. It is located on quay 63, exactly on the border between city and port. A unique feature of the design is that it literally stands over and preserves the Hansa House that was built in 1922 as an exact replica of the residence and warehouse built in 1564 for the Hanseatic League. The original Hansa House burned down in 1893 and the replica is a listed monument. It was built in neo-traditional style by city architect Emiel van Averbeke to house the firestation that served the port which then was expanding towards the North. In later years it housed the Port Authority’s technical departments.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-08-Hufton_Crow-759x763 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

“With the new Port House we give physical expression to the major international port that Antwerp now is. With its dynamic, ambitious and innovative design it is symbolic of our port. Visitors will have a breathtaking view, far out over the city and the port, thus helping to strengthen the dialogue between the Antwerp people and their port.” – Marc van Peel, port alderman and chairman of the port authority

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-11-Hufton_Crow-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects:

With 12 km of docks, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, serving 15,000 sea trade ships and 60,000 inland barges each year.

Antwerp handles 26% of Europe’s container shipping, transporting more than 200 million tonnes of goods via the ocean-going vessels that call at the port and providing direct employment for over 60,000 people, including more than 8,000 port workers. Indirectly, the Port of Antwerp ensures about 150,000 jobs and has ambitious targets for future expansion to meet the continent’s growth and development over the next century.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-12-Hufton_Crow-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

In 2007, when the former 1990s offices of the Port of Antwerp had become too small, the port determined that relocation would enable its technical and administrative services to be housed together, providing new accommodation for about 500 staff. The port required a sustainable and future-proof workplace for its employees, representing its ethos and values in an ever-expanding local and international arena.

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 waterside site also offered significant sustainable construction benefits, allowing materials and building components to be transported by water, an important requirement to meet the port’s ecological targets.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-13-Hufton_Crow-759x441 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Following the construction of a new fire station with facilities needed to service the expanding port, the old fire station on the Mexico Island site – a listed replica of a Hanseatic residence – became redundant and relied on a change of use to ensure its preservation. This disused fire station had to be integrated into the new project. The Flemish government’s department of architecture, together with the City and Port authorities organized the architectural competition for the new headquarters.

Zaha Hadid Architects’ design is informed by detailed historical research and a thorough analysis of both the site and the existing building.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-20-Hufton_Crow-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

“There was only one rule laid down in the architectural competition, namely that the original building had to be preserved. There were no other requirements imposed for the positioning of the new building. The jury was therefore pleasantly surprised when the five shortlisted candidates all opted for a modern structure above the original building. They all combined the new with the old, but the design by Zaha Hadid Architects was the most brilliant.” – Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Antwerp, said

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-27-Laurian-Ghinitoiu-800x1200 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

Working with Origin, leading heritage consultants in the restoration and renovation of historic monuments, ZHA’s studies of the site’s history and heritage are the foundations of the design which firstly emphasises the north-south site axis parallel with the Kattendijkdok linking the city centre to the port. Secondly, 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. ZHA and Origin’s 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. Its bold vertical statement, intended to crown the imposing volume of the building below, was never realised.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-30-Laurian-Ghinitoiu-800x1200 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

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.

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 façade is a glazed surface that ripples like waves and reflects the changing tones and colours of the city’s sky. Triangular facets allow the apparently smooth curves at either end of the building to be formed with flat sheets of glass. They also facilitate the gradual transition from a flat façade at the south end of the building to a rippling surface at the north.

While most of the triangular facets are transparent, some are opaque. This calibrated mix ensures sufficient sunlight within the building, while also controlling solar load to guarantee optimal working conditions. At the same time, the alternation of transparent and opaque facade panels breaks down the volume of the new extension, giving panoramic views of the Scheldt, the city and the Port as well as providing enclosure.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-40-Laurian-Ghinitoiu-800x1200 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

The façade’s rippling quality is generated with flat facets to the south that gradually become more three-dimensional towards to the north. This 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 façade 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.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-41-Laurian-Ghinitoiu-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

Collaborating with services consultant Ingenium, ZHA developed a sustainable and energy-efficient design reaching a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating. Despite the challenges of integrating with a protected historic building, high standards in sustainable design were achieved by implementing effective strategies at each stage of construction. A borehole energy system pumps water to a depth of 80m below grade in over 100 locations around the building to provide heating and cooling. In the existing building, this system uses chilled beams. In the new extension, it uses chilled ceilings. Waterless lavatory fittings and motion detectors minimise water consumption while building automation and optimal daylight controls minimise artificial lighting.

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.

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-51-Laurian-Ghinitoiu-759x506 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

“The architectural style of the original building, a replica of the former Hansa House, recalls the 16th century, Antwerp’s “golden century.” But now above this original, a contemporary structure in shining glass has been built, which I am sure, represents a new golden century for Antwerp.” – Marc Van Peel said

Antwerp-Port-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-57-Tim-Fisher-759x426 Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Tim Fisher

Project Data:

Project name: Port House
Location: Zaha Hadidplein 1, 2030 Antwerp, Belgium
Coordinates: 51.240973, 4.407346
Type: Port House
Site area: 16,400 sqm
Project area:

  • 12,800 square metres above ground (6,600 square metres in the refurbished fire station) (6,200 square metres in the new extension)
  • 8,000 square metres underground parking including – 190 bicycle parking spaces, 25 electric car parking/charging spaces

Building extension:

  • New extension: 111m Length, 24m Width, 21m Height
  • Existing fire station: 63m Length, 78.5m Width, 21.5m Height
  • Total height (existing building + new extension) – 46m (5 additional floors)
  • 90-seat auditorium

Project Year/Period: 2009-2014
Status: Built, Completed
Cost: $129 million
Completion Year: August 2014
Opening Date: August 1, 2016
Visit Antwerp Port House’s Website: here

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Antwerp Port Authority
Architects: Zaha Hadid Architects – Studio London, 10 Bowling Green Lane, London, United Kingdom
Design: Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher
Project Director: Joris Pauwels
Project Architect: Jinmi Lee
Project Team: 

  • Florian Goscheff, Monica Noguero, Kristof Crolla, Naomi Fritz, Sandra Riess, Muriel Boselli, Susanne Lettau

Competition Team:

  • Kristof Crolla, Sebastien Delagrange, Paulo Flores, Jimena Araiza, Sofia Daniilidou, Andres Schenker, Evan Erlebacher, Lulu Aldihani

Local Architect: Bureau Bouwtechniek
Structural: Studieburo Mouton
Services: Ingenium
Specialised Services: Daidalos Peutz
Restoration: Origin
Fire: FPC

Text Description: © Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
Images: ©  Zaha Hadid Architects, Hufton + Crow, Laurian Ghinitoiu, Hélène BinetTim Fisher

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Antwerp Port House / Zaha Hadid Architects
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