Zaha Hadid leaves glass boat high and dry in Antwerp

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Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest shipping port, serving 15,000 sea trade ships and 60,000 inland barges each year(Credit: Hélène Binet)

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Even her harshest critics could hardly accuse Zaha Hadid of being content to play it safe, and the starchitect's latest posthumously-completed work reminds us of the unwavering self-confidence that typified her designs. Intended to resemble a large glass ship's bow pointing toward the area that Antwerp was founded, the newly-inaugurated Port House extension is a definite landmark for the city's port, though is sure to divide opinion.

The unusual design was partly driven by constraint. Hired following an architectural competition to carry out a renovation and extension of a former port fire station building so it could serve as an office for 500 workers, Hadid was told that the original building must be preserved. Therefore, an additional structure atop was decided upon.

The glazed extension is supported by a concrete column and measures 111 x 24 x 21 m (364 x 78 x 68 ft). Its facade comprises a blend of transparent and opaque triangular glass facets which was calculated to ensure optimal natural light inside for the workers.

The old fire station's courtyard was enclosed with a new glass roof and serves as reception area to Port House, with access to the new extension gained via elevator. A historic public reading room and library within the disused fire truck hall were also restored.

The project received a "Very Good" BREEAM sustainable building code rating, and includes waterless lavatory fittings and motion detectors to reduce water usage. A heat pump system pumps water up to 80 m (262 ft) beneath ground level to help cool and heat the interior more efficiently.

Like the Dyson Campus, chilled beams are used in the original fire station building for efficient heating and cooling, while the new extension uses chilled ceilings, a very similar system.

With this building it feels almost like Zaha Hadid's work has come full-circle. One of her key early designs involved another fire station, the Vitra Fire Station, in Germany, though the use of juxtaposition between old and new brings to mind another of her more recent works, the Middle East Centre.

We've no word on what the Port House cost to build, though Reuters reports it came to a cool €55 million (roughly US$62 million.

Source: ZHA

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