In 2008 a2o architecten, together with Atelier Kempe Thill, entered the competition for the renovation and extension of ‘Het Havenhuis’ in Antwerp, Belgium.
The new Havenhuis will be one of the buildings that strengthen the unique character of the city of Antwerp and its harbour. Antwerp is building a future in which the mixture of the past and the present creates an idiosyncratic identity. The Havenhuis was given an international role. It is rooted in the history of the city and at the same time points to the future. The required renovation and extension of the existing building constitute, on the one hand, an architectural icon for the harbour. But it also engages in a dialogue with the city, without repressing the historic unity.
This building should not be the expression of how the outside world perceived architecture in 2008. It is not demonstration commission. This building should be the creation of a location where the harbour appropriates the world, based on one condition: trade.
The existing building provides the perfect starting point for an extension.
The current structure and organisation are transparent, clear, with high rooms and a pattern of openings in
the façade that facilitate the pleasant access of daylight. Our new design is literally built on what is there.
The existing floor plan provides the starting point for the extension, using the Havenhuis’s innate qualities. The extension reflects what is there and confirms the footprint and location. The contemporary additions to the city contrast with the existing historic architecture, but together create a new identity and unity of utilization and organisation.
The present Havenhuis is a copy of the original late-medieval Hanse House. The Havenhuis no longer has a trading function, but acts as a fire station. The current building is a somewhat odd, hybrid construction of load-bearing masonry with a concrete structure. It can be regarded as a caricature of the original building.
The new shape is a reflection and a conscious artistic act. Not a stunt, but rather of a surrealist and Belgian nature. The extension smartly links with the old. It has a characteristic floor plan, in which all rooms are arranged around an inner court. The new volume continues this concept in a light steel structure. Completed fully in dry plaster constructions. The structure cuts through the roof en acts as a bridging element.
The solution chosen shows the possibilities of vertical extension of a historic building. It confirms its role as a symbol of the international port of Antwerp. It is an addition to the city’s skyline, at the spot where the old and new harbour meet.