Loft apartments on top of a warehouse
Fenix I is selected for the Rotterdam Architecture Prize 2019.
With almost 45,000 m2 of mixed-use space, Rotterdam gained another bold and iconic building. Fenix I is not just an architectural landmark, but is also in technical terms a great work of art.
Through the existing monumental Fenix warehouse, which dates back to 1922, an immense steel table structure has been built, comprising of approximately one kiloton (1 million kg) of steel. On top, a new concrete building has been created, with 212 new loft apartments, varying in size from 40 to 300 m2. These lofts are developed entirely according to the wishes of the buyers in terms of size and lay-out, and in some cases divided over two floors by means of a mezzanine. This loft concept with a high degree of flexibility and buyers’ influences is on this scale a unique concept in Europe. The former warehouse is now a mixed-use space, with quay houses, offices based on the loft typology, a public parking garage, B&B, catering facilities and an extensive culture cluster.
From San Francisco warehouse to Fenix I
The Fenix warehouses, located opposite Hotel New York and the Rijnhaven Bridge, were built in 1922 due to the considerable expansion of the fleet and number of routes of the Holland America Line at that time. The architect was Mr C.N. van Goor. The warehouse was called the San Francisco warehouse and was an impressive 360 metres long, making it the largest shipping terminal in the world at the time. The concrete facade was characterised by large loading decks. A special feature of the warehouse were the two railway lines running through the building, and the freight elevators that lorries could use to load and unload their goods onto the first floor.
At the end of World War II, large parts of the quay were destroyed. In the early 1950s a fire (presumably originating in stored cocoa) caused substantial damage to the central part of the warehouse. In 1954, the warehouse was restored into two buildings and expanded and widened on the quay side. In the middle part, a square with canteen building was realised (the current Fenixplein and canteen Walhalla) flanked by the rebuilt warehouses, Fenix I and Fenix II. In the 1980s port activities moved westward and the warehouses fell into disuse.
Since 2007, the city of Rotterdam committed to the restructuring and transformation of the Katendrecht district. The Deliplein in particular was an important part of this project. Over time Katendrecht transformed from a disadvantaged area into a trendy and most popular district, with numerous culinary, creative and cultural enterprises.
Around 2009, Heijmans started planning for the development of the Fenix I warehouse. After examining the surrounding building volumes of the Rijnhaven, in consultation with the City Development Department, it was decided to add extra volume on top of the warehouse. In 2013, Mei architects and planners won the architectural tender for the redevelopment of Fenix I.
Existing warehouse – Interlayer – New housing block
The overall design for Fenix I consists of three main parts:
First of all, it comprises the existing Holland America Line warehouse: 140 meters long and 40 meters deep, with 2 floors with 6 meters free height. This warehouse has largely been redeveloped and renovated for mixed use.
On top of that an in-between layer consisting of a gigantic spaceframe structure separates the existing warehouse and new volume above. This interlayer has a clear height of 4 meters and accommodates loft dwellings adjacent to a large courtyard garden.
And on top of this spaceframe a new enclosed building block arises, executed as a flexible concrete construction, with loft apartments of varying size and with 2.5 meters deep outdoor spaces all around. The gallery on the inside of the building block connects, by means of four elevators and staircases, to a public passageway on the ground floor, that runs through the heart of the original warehouse.
Segmentation and fusion
The design for Fenix I was aimed to merge old and new, instead of to create contrast. The primary principle of the design was therefore to connect the building and its immediate surroundings. For that reason, it was decided to heighten the building on the Rijnhaven side (9 layers on top of the warehouse) to match the size and scale of the buildings around the Rijnhaven. On the Veerlaan side, the new building volume was limited to four layers, in keeping with the lower surrounding buildings of Katendrecht.
Segmentation on the Veerlaan side
The facade of the Fenix warehouse on the Veerlaan side was reconstructed to resemble its appearance in 1922. The plaster on the concrete facade was restored to its original state and the loading decks, which disappeared over time, were rebuilt. On the ground floor, the glass walls were moved back slightly in relation to the concrete construction to emphasise the gallery, where the trains used to pass through. The facade of the interlayer is characterised by a constant repetition of a dark facade elements and in its entirety is positioned slightly back in relation to the warehouse. The new housing volume above it consists of three layers and a setback of separate penthouse units. This creates a high-contrast segmented volume on the Veerlaan side that matches the streetscape.
Fusion on the Rijnhaven side
On the Rijnhaven side, the original warehouse is characterised by brute concrete, the presence of large loading doors, an elongated bulky loading deck and a long letterbox window. This facade, dating from the 1950s, is restored to its former glory. In line with the letterbox window, the new housing volume is connected by means of the interlayer with its dark, uniform front. Eight concrete residential layers with a ninth layer comprising prominent penthouses are built on top.
The design results in a fusion of old and new, making the facade look grand and imposing. Fenix I relates to the existing buildings in the Rijnhaven area, both new and historical, like for instance the adjacent Codrico building.
The sixth facade
An important aspect of the design is the sixth facade, this being the bottom side of the balconies. In the new housing volume, the consoles of the balconies have been executed with great attention and finesse. Their appearance is referring back to the Fenix warehouse. The balustrades of the balconies, which surround the entire building, are made of sandwiched glass and so-called “muse frames”: repetitive industrial steel frame elements, that invite you to lean on it and daydream, and which fit the character and the use of the port. In total no less than 516 muse frames were added to the facade.
The courtyard of the enclosed building block is an oasis of calm, that contrasts with its surroundings. It was a conscious choice to use a gallery to access the loft apartments, as this encourages social interaction between the residents. The tranquillity of the inner courtyard is emphasised by the use of white concrete, combined with warm wooden facades, that go from a dark colour tone at the top to a light tone along the lower floors. The design of the balustrades incorporates integrated flower boxes, allowing plants to climb up along the galleries.
The residential volume on top of the warehouse comprises 212 lofts. In the interlayer, these apartments have a clear height of 4m. The impressive space frame structure of the steel table construction is unmistakably part of the apartment. The lofts in the interlayer have a harmonica facade on the Rijnhaven side and a private outdoor space opening out onto the courtyard area.
The first three floors in the concrete volume above comprise about 80 rental apartments, with limited variation. The floors above that contain approximately 130 lofts, with a high degree of flexibility in size and lay-out. In order to realize this, the initial design phase included detailed research into the placement of shafts and meter cupboards. Therefor the floors of each apartment were individually prepared for construction with piping and armouring. The apartments vary in size from 40 to 300 m2 and all 130 lofts are unique. In order to optimise flexibility, the apartments have a ceiling height of 2.7m, and in the penthouses the ceilings are 3m high. All the apartments, also the rental homes, have large sliding doors and spacious, 2.5 m deep balconies with a glass balustrade, to make the most of the exceptional location and fantastic views. On the short side of the building block, where the building volume has stepped roofs, the penthouses also have spacious roof terraces. Mei architects has advised on the interior design for about 50 lofts, and about 50% of all loft owners chose to retain the brute concrete finish on the ceilings and columns resulting from the tunnel construction and formwork systems.
The distinctive architecture as well as the exceptional residential product offered by Fenix I attracts residents and users with a similar mindset. This means that, even in a building combining rental and owner-occupied apartments, the gallery is open and contributes to the quality of living. The residents of Fenix form an inclusive community, where people live together and share their lives.
The existing warehouse, Fenix Docks, has a mixed-use purpose. Part of the warehouse was rebuilt to provide for an efficient public parking garage with 270 parking spaces. Along the quay, there are 5 quay houses, each with 2 floors with a height of 6m. These apartments have a free lay-out, are fitted with original loading doors and can be accessed directly from the Rijnhaven quay.
In addition, Fenix Docks offers room to three well-known cultural institutions, which together form the Culture Cluster: Conny Janssen Danst, Codarts Circus School and youth Circus Rotjeknor. Mei played a key role in mediating between the municipality of Rotterdam and these organisations, that are each active in (one of) the 3 Cs (culinary, creative and cultural). Mei developed inventive solutions to fit the various required spaces into the existing warehouse structure. The required column-free spaces, the requested free height for the training rooms, and the shared communal areas made this spatial integration a complex challenge.
The result is a smart design with both communal and private spaces. Spontaneous meetings between the various organisations and users take place at various places, but there is also sufficient privacy. The foyer is such a communal meeting place, with a glass wall that provides a glimpse into the Codarts training room. The foyer is accessible from the Fenixplein on the south side of the building and gives access to the ‘docks’ and the ‘arts’ parts of the Culture Cluster.
The programming of various companies on the quay of the Rijnhaven and the Veerlaan side, such as West 8 and the Fenix Food Factory, gives the building an active base. Along the quay, Fenix Docks accommodates various catering companies, including the Fenix Food Factory, which enhances the vibrant and public character of the quayside.
In order to make both sides of the building easily accessible, Mei designed a passageway that runs straight through the building from the Veerlaan side to the Rijnhaven side. During the day, this passage is open to the public. Residents of the lofts above have access to their home via an entrance hall in the passageway. Glass walls in the passageway offer residents and visitors a glimpse into the Culture Cluster.
A kiloton of steel
The technical challenge of Fenix I is most evident in its construction. By placing an immense steel table construction, weighing approximately one kiloton (1 million kg), running it through the existing warehouse and giving it a separate foundation, the monumental warehouse could be largely preserved. Moreover, a considerable volume of living space could be added, which was technically kept completely separate from the warehouse.
The new foundation of the table was carefully inserted in between the warehouse’s existing foundation blocks. The steel structure was fully welded in the works, which is a very exceptional method in the Netherlands.
The new concrete volume (Fenix Lofts) was constructed by means of a concrete tunnel construction, with walls made of disc columns to create a high degree of flexibility. The combination of this steel table structure with a concrete tunnel construction on top is unique in the world.
Sustainability is an integral part of Fenix I, starting with maximum reuse of the existing building. The new building is future-proof and adaptable due to the extra storey height and can be flexibly partitioned because of a main supporting structure consisting of disc columns instead of walls and the central circular installation ring.
The building volume and the facades have been optimised to allow daylight to enter the courtyard and the apartments. The glass facades offering prime views, are made of high-performance solar control glazing. Combined with the exterior sunshades and the balconies, solar heat entering the building is blocked and the need for cooling is reduced.
The roof gardens and vertical green courtyard facades stimulate a healthy, comfortable and nature-inclusive living environment. They filter particulates from the air and the green roofs collect rainwater which can be reused.
The building makes efficient use of energy by using LED lighting in the communal areas, has a mechanical ventilation system with high-efficiency heat recovery and applies heat and cold storage for cooling and heating of the building.