Vast glass addition to former fire station by ZHA creates port HQ

A huge, faceted glass structure sits on the roof of the new headquarters Zaha Hadid Architects has designed for Antwerp’s Port Authority – sited in a former fire station.

First unveiled in 2009, the Port House scheme was one of the most ambitious designs proposed by British-Iraqi Zaha Hadid before her death earlier this year.

The huge volume measures over 100 metres in length, almost matching the former fire station below.

It allows the building to host 500 Port Authority staff who were previously working across separate sites in the Belgian city.

The extension is covered in triangular facets – some transparent and others opaque – which are arranged to create a flat surface at the south end and a rippling texture that echoes the water at the north.

“Like the bow of a ship, the new extension points towards the Scheldt, connecting the building with the river on which Antwerp was founded,” said ZHA.

“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.”

The alternating transparent and opaque panels are intended to visually break up the scale of the structure. They also provide ample daylight, shade and views out to the Scheldt river, city and port for workers.

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 said ZHA.

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 views of the city and port.

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.”