Zaha Hadid Architects has inaugurated the New Port House in Antwerp, which repurposes a derelict fire station as a new headquarters for the district. The project brings together the port’s 500 staff that previously worked in separate buildings around the city. The architecture takes the form of an elevated extension, designed to ‘float’ above the existing building. Shaped like the bow of a ship, the new structure points towards the scheldt river, with a faceted glazed façade that reflects the changing tones and colors of the city’s sky. Following the construction of a new fire station, the old facility became redundant and relied on a change of use to ensure its preservation. Consequently, this disused fire house 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 historical research and analysis of both the site and the existing building.
Rather than concealing the existing façades, the design team built upwards – a particularly appropriate solution considering the existing building was originally intended to be a tower. Surrounded by water, the new façade is a glazed surface with triangular facets that allow the apparently smooth curves at either end of the building to be formed with flat sheets of glass. While most of the triangular facets are transparent, some are opaque. This combination means that the architects were able to control the amount of sunlight entering the building. Simultaneously, the alternation of transparent and opaque panels breaks down the volume of the new extension, giving panoramic views of the scheldt, the city and the port. The building’s appearance reinterprets Antwerp’s reputation as the “City of Diamonds” with a carefully cut form that changes its appearance throughout the day.
The central courtyard has been enclosed with a glass roof, providing visitors access the historic public reading room and library within the restored and preserved fire truck hall. Panoramic lifts provide direct access to the new extension with an external bridge between the existing building and new structure affording views of both the city and the port.
The waterside site 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. The brief called for an “activity based office” with related areas such as the restaurant, meeting rooms and auditorium located at the center of the upper levels of the existing building and the bottom floors of the new extension. The remaining storeys, more remote from the center, comprise open plan offices.