From monumental warehouse to bold icon for Rotterdam
With 45,000 m2 of mixed-use program and a unique steel table construction that is built right through the existing monumental warehouse, Rotterdam has gained a bold and iconic building: Fenix I. The original Fenix warehouse, built in 1922 for the Holland America Line, has been redeveloped and renovated for an extensive mixed-use program, including the Cultuur Cluster, formed by Codarts Circus Arts School, Conny Janssen Danst and Circus Rotjeknor. On top of the 100-year-old monumental Fenix warehouse, a new volume with 212 loft homes has been built. Fenix I excels in technical terms, the loft concept is exceptional in its size and from an architectural point of view, Fenix I has become an icon for Rotterdam.
Completed in November 2019
2013 — 2019
Cultural and culinary facilities (approx. 8,500 m2)
225 parking lots (approx. 9,000 m2)
212 loft apartments (78 rental & 134 sale, approx. 23,000 m2)
The starting point for the design was to add a new volume that was three times as large as the original warehouse, in which living, working and business would be accommodated – while preserving the existing warehouse and its characteristic appearance. In order to serve the market, flexibility was the key word. Mei’s proposal was to lower the building to six storeys on the Katendrecht side and raise it to 10 on the Rijnhaven side. In this way, the building on this side would fit into the solid harbour architecture with a correlating scale. On the Katendrecht side, a connection has been found with the size and scale of the 19th-century city district.
Existing warehouse – mezzanine layer – new housing block
The design for Fenix I essentially consists of three parts: The existing Holland America Line warehouse, 140 metres long and 40 metres deep, with two storeys and a clear height of 6 metres. This warehouse is largely redeveloped and renovated for a mixed programme. On top of that is an intermediate storey of about 4 metres high, which consists of an enormous truss construction with loft apartments adjacent to a 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 surrounding outdoor spaces of 2.5 metres deep. 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.
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.
“Fenix I is an exemplary re-development project weaved beautifully into the urban fabric of Rotterdam’s historical waterfront.”
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 muse frame
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 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 Fenix passage is a new inner street, 40 meters long, that runs right through the building and connects the city side (Veerlaan) with the quay. During the day, this passage is open to the public. Through huge glass fronts, people who pass by are offered a view of the 12-meter high practice and trapeze room of the Codarts Circus School. From the passage, the residents reach the secure and transparent entrance to the Fenix lofts. By means of four glass elevators, the residents are led through the roof of the warehouse to the inner area and galleries of the various residential floors. This passage is perhaps one of the most exciting spaces in Fenix, which best expresses the energy and kinetic intensity of the building’s past and present and exposes the different layers of time.
The residential volume on top of the warehouse comprises 212 lofts, both for sale and rent, and ranging from 40 to 300 m2. These lofts are composed in size, arranged and in some cases divided over two floors by means of an atrium, entirely according to the wishes of the buyers. This loft concept with a high degree of flexibility and buyer influence is on this scale a unique concept in Europe. 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.
In the intermediate level, adjacent to the courtyard garden, 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 inner area of the closed building block is an oasis of calm. This area is characterized by light, greenery and transparency and forms a strong contrast with the strong industrial structures of the dockyard. A deliberate choice was made to open up the gallery to stimulate contact between residents. The tranquility is emphasized by the gallery in white concrete, combined with a warm wooden facade, which changes from dark on the top, to light on the bottom floors. The design of the railings incorporates flower boxes as an integral part, from which climbing plants grow along the galleries.
Despite the fact that the open gallery is not often used anymore due to its unpopularity, Mei consciously chose for this access principle. In the case of the Fenix, Mei reinvented the gallery. Through a number of clever design solutions, the quality of the gallery has been significantly increased and its negative image has been completely eradicated. Examples of interventions in the design that have improved the concept of the gallery are the integration of the small balconies, the materialisation and attention to detail of the balustrades and lighting, and the integrated greenery. The choice of the gallery has many advantages, such as an optimal BVO/GBO ratio and maximum flexibility (Open Building). Moreover, Mei has consciously chosen for this access principle to emphasize the communal use of the Fenix and to stimulate meeting people. This creates a close community of residents and even in a building where rental and owner-occupied housing are combined, gallery access can succeed and contribute to the quality of living.
The former warehouse contains a mixed-use programme with office spaces based on the loft typology, a public car park, B&B, catering facilities and an extensive culture cluster. Along the quay, there are 5 quay dwellings, each with two storeys of 6 metres high. These residences have a free layout, original loading doors and direct access from the Rijnhavenkade.
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.
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.
Other sustainability aspects include optimisation of light entry in combination with high-efficiency solar-control glazing; reduction of solar heat and cooling requirements through exterior blinds and balconies; LED lighting in the communal areas; and mechanical ventilation system with high-efficiency heat recovery and the use of heat and cold storage for cooling and heating the building. The roof gardens and vertical green inner walls promote a healthy, comfortable and nature-inclusive living environment. They filter fine dust from the air and the green roofs collect rainwater for reuse.