Port House – Antwerp, Belgium
Formerly a derelict fire station, the Port House in Antwerp is now the headquarters for Europe’s second largest shipping port. The transformative project, led by an award-winning design from Zaha Hadid Architects, renovated and extended the fire station to provide a new home for the port’s 500 staff.
The origins of the project can be traced back to 2007 when the 1990s offices of the Port had become too small. The new headquarters needed to be a sustainable and future-proof workplace for employees. Mexico Island, a threshold between the city and its vast port, was selected as the site for the new head office. The waterside site offered significant sustainable construction benefits such as allowing materials to be transported by water, which was important for the port’s ecological targets. However, by choosing the Mexico Island site it meant that any design had to incorporate the fire station.
Zaha Hadid Architects’ design is informed by detailed historical research and a thorough analysis of both the site and the existing building. Working with Origin, leading heritage consultants in the restoration and renovation historic monuments, ZHA’s studies of the site’s history and heritage are the foundations of the design.
Beginning with the bold extension, it points towards the Scheldt River like the bow of a ship and helps connect the building with the river. It’s glazed façade ripples like waves and reflects the changing tones and colours of the city’s sky. The façades rippling quality is generated with flat facets at the southern end that gradually become more three-dimensional towards the north.
The old fire station’s central courtyard has been enclosed with a glass roof and has been transformed into the main reception area for the building. 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 comprise open plan offices.
The design is also sustainable and energy efficient, despite the challenges of working with a heritage building, and achieved a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating.
The new Port House has received significant recognition since it was opened. It was recently a winner at the 2018 MIPIM Awards in the ‘Best Refurbished Building’ category.
With constant references to the Scheldt River, the city of Antwerp and the dynamics of its port, married with the successful renovation and reuse of a redundant fire station, the new Port House serves the surrounding area and will continue to do so as it expands over future generations.