When Zaha Hadid Architects docks a parametric glass ship on top of a heritage fire station, there will be detractors. But they’re all wrong.
With a respectable period having now elapsed since Zaha Hadid passed away, the completion of one of her most remarkable projects has re-opened hostilities surrounding her architecture.
It’s hard to remember a building so roundly criticised, on the strength – it must be said – of a few images, as the Havenhuis, an early 20th century fire station converted into the headquarters of the Antwerp port authority.
The building has received a pasting for a whole range of sins. These include: it is nothing more than self consciously iconic; it lacks context; it is joyless; it is formally unoriginal; and best of all, it has improper moral or political intentions. You might point out to those that dismiss her that Hadid always saw her architecture at the apex of urban forces as opposed to historical routes.
She compiled form not just from the networks of road and rail but also from the apprehension of them. The Havenhuis does this better than much of her later work and is on a par perhaps with the BMW Central Building in Leipzig.
Oriented north to south, the new structure – legible as a boat in a raised position from the east of west – is supported by four cranked steel columns to the fore and a large concrete core to the aft, latter chamfered, like the raised volume itself, to acknowledge the road that passes around it.
The building actually beats many of her others simply because the interior is so well detailed.
the extreme geometries and parametric detailing of structure have created tensions in Hadid’s work, with the Fire Station at Vitra representing a lesson that, in some people’s estimation, she didn’t learn. Simply not true.
In Antwerp, the parallelogram modules of triangular window panelling offer a workable solution for creating the varied glazing system, which is a pure geometry at the southern end and then fritted to the north.