Structures in the Low Countries: Port House, Antwerp

The third interesting structure we discuss in the series Structures in the Low Countries is the Port House in the city of Antwerp, Belgium.  This building, designed by Zaha Hadid, is the brand new Port House. It was opened 6 months after Zaha’s sudden death  and the population of Antwerp is still making up their mind whether they like it or not.  In any case, we liked it a lot. As the Antwerp-based graphic designer, Stephanie Specht,  says

“Bateau c’est un batiment sur l’eau” 

The Diamond Ship (Zaha Hadid) with the Ark (bOb Van Reeth) in the forground

The president of the Port of Antwerp, Marc Van Peel, has called it a “Diamond Ship” which refers to the context of Antwerp being famous for its diamond trade and the site location right in the middle of the Antwerp Port.

In 2008 Zaha and her office entered a design competition with hundred other design teams to upgrade and expand an existing early 20th century fire station into an office building for the port authority. The original brick building, which is a copy of a 16th century Hanseatic building, has a historic designation and had in the original design drawings an eye-catching spire which was never built.

Original drawing of the Hanseatic fire station, Antwerp, Early 20th century. City Archives

The addition of the triangulated glass volume seems to defy gravity and is a signature piece, like the spire was meant to be. This four story volume of offices is supported on a sculptural column, holding the fire escape, and on an elevator core that rises up from the original courtyard.

By off- setting the glass faceted volume from the geometric center of the brick building, the architects created compositional tension while allowing daylight to filter into the courtyard.  In addition, the shape of the glass “diamond” volume seemed to be bent and stretched by invisible forces, generating the feeling of movement.  The glass facade whose edges are beveled and cut, reflects the light during the day time and at night shines as a diamond beacon. This in contrast with the brick building, which seems very grounded and celebrates repetition and symmetry, a exemplary product of early 20th century bricklaying techniques.  The city of Antwerp has been the Diamond City since 1447. 2017 was inaugurated as the ‘Diamond Year’ , the Port House is an excellent icon to celebrate this legacy. This is our last post for this year, we wish you Happy Holidays and inspiration for the new year!  from all of us at the Form Finding Lab

Beveled cut edges in a parametrically designed facade

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