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“Havenhuis” is strategically located between the port and the city centre, this provocative project overlaps and almost protects the former fire station in Antwerp designed by Van Mechelen in the early twentieth century. The new project has been developed as an extension of the Flemish neo-Renaissance building, which has become small and outdated, producing a collection that is currently the new main building of the Port Authority district, autonomous entity that manages the maritime activities of Antwerp. The complex dialogue that is established between the two buildings produces an interesting result in terms of the historical heritage of architecture and engineering.
The architecture of Zaha Hadid Architects speaks for itself, much more than words could. The building evokes the story of a dynamic port town run by a rich maritime authority. Antwerp has the potential to become a landmark in the world, presenting simultaneously a strong union between the port and the city as shown by this work.
As it might be expected from Hadid and her studio’s work, the volume of faceted glass and steel interacts intelligently with both the existing and the future urban developments.
The first steps towards the realisation of this architectural work were exemplary. The drafting was supervised by Marcel Smeets, and from 2005 to 2010 the platform “Open Oprep” was coordinated in order to allow a variety of architectural studio to compete for the design based on the validity of their curriculum. Zaha Hadid Architects competed with imposing and successful studios like Rapp + Rapp and Xaveer De Geyter. ZHA initial project was the renovation of existing buildings, a car park and a new office 12,800 square meters building for 500 people, which would allow to bring together under one roof the different offices of the Port Authority.
The most interesting aspect of “Havenhuis” has been the approach to its monumental structure, managed by Origin Architecture & Engineering. By relating to the pre-existing building, ZHA’s design is not a separate entity; the designers have aimed to the preservation of the typical indoors corridors and the details of the original Neo-Renaissance building. By using the integration of the two designs, Hadid’s project has convinced with ease the approval of the critic commission, whose aim was to revise and protect projects on public patrimony.
Unfortunately the final making costs have revealed to be higher than the ZHA architects originally had in budget, and this made the project much more vulnerable. This means that the “Havenhuis” project by Hadid and her associates can be defined either as an “architectural masterpiece” or as a “costly folly”, which could obviously be simply catalogued as another example of “star architecture”.
With its oblique angles and impeccable interior designs, the new project frees a new type of energy and enthusiasm around the site, inverting the logic of the old and enclosed building underneath. The geometric complexity and the use of glass facets make the building dynamic which seems to break the rules of gravity. However the recognisable and evident difference between the new and the old is still incompatible for many people, and intolerable for many, and it maybe will when the newer building will show signs of ageing in the future.
The challenge for Hadid and her associates was to make the “Havenhuis” a pleasant presence in the complex urban context, but now as the new project is fresh to the public eye; the challenge will be to win their hearts and taste. Overall, for as much it can be argued, this project still is according to architects, engineers, builders and designers across the world a revolutionary and fascinating architectural work, which can potentially open a new chapter in the history of architecture.
Image credit: http://www.pagadders.be/images/havenhuis.jpg