Antwerp Law Courts

Antwerp Law Courts

Individual Buildings
Antwerp, Belgium - Build completed in 2005
© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Antwerp Law Courts

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners as Architects

The new Law Courts for the Flemish city of Antwerp is one of RRP’s major public buildings of the early 21st century. Like many projects by the practice, it reflects a vision of the city as a humane and democratic place with a commitment to the regeneration of urban life. The site for the Law Courts is at the Bolivarplaats, on the southern edge of Antwerp’s central area, where the urban fabric is broken by a massive motorway interchange, cutting off the boulevard that leads into the city.


The new building is one of the catalysts for RRP’s long-term masterplan of ‘the new south’ of the city, currently in progress. The new building, designed in conjunction with Belgian architects VK Studio, is conceived both as a gateway to the city and to provide a link across the motorway between the city centre and the Schelde River. It houses eight distinct civil and criminal courts and includes 36 courtrooms plus offices, chambers for judges and lawyers, library and dining room, with a great public hall (the space traditionally known as the ‘Salle des Pas Perdus’) linking six radiating wings of accommodation. This space is capped by a striking roofstructure, crystalline in form, rising above the paraboloid roofs that cover the courtrooms.


A low-energy services strategy is fundamental to this project – natural light is used to optimum effect, natural ventilation is supplemented by low-velocity ventilation for the hearing rooms and rainwater is recycled. The building, straddling a major highway, looks out to a large area of parkland – the design creates ‘fingers’ of landscaped that extend right into the heart of the building. The landscape is configured and planted to shield the building from the noise and pollution of the motorway.


Background


The site for the Antwerp Law Courts is the Bolivarplaats (a former railway station and goods yard), on the southern edge of Antwerp’s central area, where the urban fabric is broken by a massive motorway interchange, cutting off the boulevard that leads into the city. The building, designed in conjunction with VK Studios, was conceived both as a gateway to the city and as a link across the motorway between the city centre and the Schelde River. It houses eight distinct civil and criminal courts and includes 36 courtrooms plus offices, chambers for judges and lawyers, library and cafeteria, with a great public hall (the space traditionally known as the Salle des Pas Perdus) linking six radiating wings of accommodation. This space is capped by a striking roof structure, crystalline in form, linking the paraboloid roofs that cover the courtrooms. Unlike traditional law courts, the new scheme creates courts, hearing rooms and public space, all filled with natural light, as well as providing spectacular views across the city. Highly transparent clear-glazed atria, lifts and stairwells provide instant legibility and respond to the initial brief to make the workings of justice more transparent. Coloured steelwork also acts as an orientating device that is legible both in the broader context of the city and from within the building itself. The building, straddling a major highway, looks out to a large area of open land. The design creates ‘fingers’ of landscaped parkland which extend right into the heart of the Law Courts. When designing the new Law Courts building, Richard Rogers Partnership also focused a great deal of attention on the environmental aspects of this project and on the effective use of energy. Natural light is used to optimum effect, natural ventilation is supplemented by low-velocity ventilation for the hearing rooms and rainwater is recycled. The environmental strategy is based on utilising the thermal mass of the pre-cast concrete frame, the reduction of solar gain by high performance glazing and the use of external glazed louvres.


Design


The relationship of the new Law Courts with Bolivarplaats is a key factor in the design of the building. The relocation of the feeder road and restoration of the area as an important civic space includes proposals for landscaping with plane trees, to provide an informal meeting place. In addition, trees will form a backdrop to the approach to the courts from the Leien where pedestrians, rather than traffic, will have priority and be improved by a new tram, bus and cyclist infrastructure serving the plaats and connecting it to the existing city transport systems. A simple clarity between public and private space will enable way-finding, natural security and the signalling of a gateway into Antwerp from the south. In this context, the Salle des Pas Perdus is an extension of the Bolivarplaats and a physical continuation of the Amerikalei axis (main boulevard linking Bolivarplaats to the city centre). The placement of the civil and criminal courts to either side of this central space, crowned by a striking crystalline roof structure has created a visual beacon for the city, Bolivarplaats and the public space of the Salle des Pas Perdus. The Salle des Pas Perdus is located at the intersection of all the fingers, at the heart of the building, and architecturally forms the ‘glue’ that joins the distinct fingers. The ascent from Bolivarplaats to the main level on the second floor provides an appropriate entrance to the courts. This impressive glazed space is naturally lit and ventilated from the courtyards. Access to the courtrooms is via gently rising staircases from the central space. At the hearing room level, the Salle des Pas Perdus becomes a series of waiting areas relating to the hearing rooms themselves. The roofs of the hearing rooms are orientated to face north west and designed to admit daylight without solar glare. These changes give a more organically driven form to the gateway.


The offices are the working heart of the building. They are naturally lit and ventilated with a high degree of flexibility for reconfiguration as required over the life-span of the building. The offices comprise three of the six levels and occupy all six fingers. This arrangement maximises connectivity between and within departments, and ensures that the public functions adjoin the Salle des Pas Perdus, while those that are private are furthest away. Support functions are located at the lowest levels of the building below the public, judicial and office spaces. The central ‘Living Archive’ is located below the Salle des Pas Perdus and connected to the offices fingers. Communal staff areas such as the central library and restaurant are located at ground level between the office’s fingers with direct access to the landscaped courtyards. In the Antwerp Law Courts, the simplicity of the segregated circulation routes aids orientation and benefits from views across the courtyards as well as providing the necessary vertical and horizontal security. The built form will define a series of natural boundaries that significantly simplify the management of the building and create a flexible system that can easily adjust to cater for future growth and change.


Concept


The concept is a gateway response without monumentality, but with a roof form generated from perspective lines and Flemish paintings of barges passing through the countryside. The scheme inverts the traditional arrangement of a law courts by placing hearing rooms and public space on the top of the building, allowing views across the city. The private spaces below face onto courtyards, which provide quiet and daylit spaces contributing to a calming environment. It will extend to incorporate connections to parks, bridges and road, allowing clear views from the street and developing the city skyline. This building is a key inspiration to the masterplan for the ‘Nieuw Zuid’ (New South) which the team has developed with the City of Antwerp. The eight law courts within six linear wings are arranged around the Salle des Pas Perdus. The hearing rooms are the formal interface between the judiciary and the public. These spaces are placed above the office fingers and are accessed centrally from the Salle des Pas Perdus so that the hearing rooms and the public space flow over the top of the building. The principal hearing rooms are grouped around the Salle des Pas Perdus and frame the public space with the tallest of the roof structures. The smaller hearing rooms are arranged along the fingers under an undulating series of stainless steel roofs oriented to take advantage of light from the north. Service space for the hearing rooms is sandwiched between the hearing rooms and the offices below responding to a functional need to provide decentralised plant, while architecturally it separates the spaces above and below so that the hearing rooms appear to float over the building. The office wings overlook landscaped courtyards, allowing a natural link between the exterior and interior spaces. Public connections consider integrating the building with Konijnenwei Park (to the east) and Bolivarplaats (to the north). These connections will be furthered through the masterplan to reintegrate the city by providing east/west feeder roads linking the southern fringes.

ANTWERP LAW COURTS

ARUP as Engineers

Distinguished by a sail-like timber roof, Antwerp Law Court gives new and dramatic expression to the southern edge of the city skyline. Intended to be a new landmark on Antwerp's horizon, the new law courts were to bridge an existing motorway. This created a major challenge, not just in structural engineering, but also in keeping traffic disruption to a minimum during the construction.


Arup responded by creating a bridge deck, supported on the motorway central reservation walls. This allowed the Salle des Pas Perdus, a vast central public space, to be constructed whilst the motorway remained in operation.


Each of the courtroom 'sail' roofs is formed by four interconnecting timber hyperbolic paraboloids. Each of these is supported by an elevated courtroom deck, formed from concrete pre-cast units bonded together. Connecting the roof 'sails' to these units was a crucial step. To ensure the feasibility of this process, Arup produced 3D models of the steelwork connections, which also demonstrated the aesthetic appeal of the design.


In order to minimise energy use, the courtrooms were designed with northlight high performance glazing, while the offices used both high performance glazing and solar shading louvres. To minimise interruption to courtroom proceedings, Arup's specialists installed a quiet ventilation system. The office spaces adopted a mixed mode ventilation system.


As well as fitting neatly into the existing landscape to provide a visually pleasing profile, this award-winning law court is a symbolic gateway to the city and a lively hub for the surrounding area.

PALACE OF JUSTICE IN ANTWERP

Uginox as Manufacturers

The construction of the new Palace of Justice in Antwerp is the result of a policy of modernization of the judiciary institutionof the country. The legal services were particularly cramped in various buildings scattered across the city. In 1999, the Flemish Region decided to organise an international architectural competition for the construction of the new building.


The contract was awarded to the Richard Rogers Partnership team in association with Ove Arup and VK Studio offices who proposed an efficient, subtle and transparent building with a powerful symbolic image. The building has a floor area of 78000m² and meets stringent sustainability requirements through its orientation and maximum use of natural lighting and ventilation. The building, located on the Place Bolivar square, punctuates the end of the main boulevards of Antwerp on one side and has on the other a large green space interspersed with slip roads connecting to the motorways. One of these roads passes under the front of the building and leads onto the boulevard opposite front, thereby freeing up space for pedestrians and public transport. The fully glazed hall known as “la salle des pas perdus” (hall of lost steps) not only links to 6 wings but also creates an urban link between the park and the square, as a prolongation of the boulevard. Each wing comprises six floors, one of which is underground. The first three levels above ground are occupied by offices. The fourth is a technical level and the final floor regroups the various hearing halls, covered in roofs that resemble boat sails.


These “sail” roofs are the architectural focal point of the project.An extensive design study was necessary to determine the type of materials and construction methods required for these roofs. For example, wind tunnel studies were needed to determine the loads incurred during extreme weather. Each of the 32 roof modules is formed from four prefabricated quarters, that are then assembled on-site with a system of bolts. The geometric shape traced by these quarters is a hyperbolic paraboloid. This method simplifies the structural assembly and the fabrication of the components. Glued and laminated timber beams disposed on a frame in line with the straight lines of the sails and are mounted onto a tubular steel frame. Then three layers of planks are successively screwed on to form the shell.


The final roof covering is achieved with strips of 316L stainless-steel with Uginox Mat coating. Several technical constraints have pushed the designers towards this type of material: Natural durability, particularly when a site is exposed to maritime influences, the possibility of using welding techniques, complex geometry with either little or no angles in some places and extreme slants in others, lack of access for maintenance and of course; the visual aspect and colour.


To obtain a perfectly water-tight installation, the stainless-steel sheets are welded in a continuous seam using an automatic machine, thus creating an almost monolithic surface.


Text: SN - Constructalia

Project team
Engineers
Manufacturers
Manufacturers
Project Managers
Product Specifications
BrandCategoryProducts
AGS GlassManufacturers
Espero BVEspero BVManufacturers
ODS - JansenODS - JansenSuppliers
UginoxUginoxManufacturers
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