Antwerp is Europe’s second largest shipping port, and now the Flemish city has a fitting new architectural landmark to highlight the fact, courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA). The Port House, a masterfully renovated and extended fire station, was designed to bring together under a single roof the Belgian city’s some 500 port authority staff, while referencing in its design some of Antwerp’s key features.

The city’s 12 km of docks handle an impressive 26 per cent of Europe’s container shipping, making Antwerp’s an extremely busy and growing port facility. In 2007, the Port of Antwerp decided to commission a purpose designed building for its technical and administrative offices, which used to be housed in several different locations. 

Enter the famous London based practice, which was commissioned to redesign the derelict fire station at the point where the city meets the docklands – an area called Mexico Island. Combining historical research, the existing listed building’s features and the architecture office’s signature bold and flowing forms, ZHA crowned the refreshed structure with a glistening glass and metal new volume that appears to float at its very top.

Mimicking the nearby River Scheldt’s waters and the windy city’s ever-changing skies, the 6,200 sq m new structure is partly transparent and partly opaque. Its triangular façade panels take their cue from the city’s reputation as an international hub for the diamond trade, also reflecting surrounding views.

Inside, the structure offers panoramic vistas of the Scheldt, the city and the Port. An enclosed central courtyard leads to the building’s main reception area, a public reading room and a library. The office floors unfold above, including a restaurant, meeting rooms and an auditorium.

Combining sustainability with eye-catching design, Port House has achieved a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM environmental rating.