Port House Launched!
The new Port House – designed by Zaha Hadid Architects – 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 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.
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.
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.
Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Antwerp, said: “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.”
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.