Repurposing old structure is a significant step in utilising the current building stock in cities and lowering the carbon footprint in the construction industry. Globally, building industry is responsible for contributing 40% of carbon emission, and adaptive re-use is one of the most effective ways of lowering that footprint.
Fenix I designed by Mei Architects is the new addition to the Rotterdam waterfront, which features nine stories of loft apartment and mixed-use spaces housed in the warehouse which dates back to 1922. Originally, the structure was called the San Francisco warehouse and was once the largest shipping terminal in the world. In 1980s, the port activities moved to a different part of the city and the warehouse fell into disuse, standing neglected in the city.
Following the 2007 decision by the city to transform the Katendrecht district, the neighbourhood is now a trendy and popular district, with numerous restaurants and cultural activities. Especially the area surrounding the Rijnhaven is developed as a pedestrian-friendly promenade, hosting several well-known structures. In 2009, the city development department floated the architectural tender to develop the existing warehouse with extra volumes on top, which was subsequently won by Mei Architects.
“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,”explains Mei Architects.
The organisation of the Fenix I is broadly divided into three parts; the lower level is the warehouse renovated for mixed use, and the in-between layer consists a gigantic spaceframe structure laying the base for the structure above. This interlayer consists of a larger courtyard garden and loft apartments and acts as the base for a new building block, hosting 212 loft apartments.
The structure is a combination of old and new and, through its architecture, connects the city with the docks. The reason to add nine floors on the Rijnhaven side was to match the scale of building in the surrounding area while on the Veerlaan side the new building volume was limited to four layers, in keeping with the lower surrounding buildings of Katendrecht.
Another significant design challenge was to enhance the community and bring the city towards the docks and activating the base was the key element in achieving this. Mei Architects developed inventive solutions into the existing warehouse structure to house three well-known cultural institutions, forming the cultural cluster. The warehouse features a 40-metre-wide central passageway, Fenix Passage, which connects the two sides of the city.
“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,” Mei Architects told Design City.
Through the high glass walls, passersby can view these cultural institutions. Internally, the glass skylight provides connection to the inner courtyard greens and gardens of the Fenix Loft. The inclusion of the cultural institutes helps activate the quay side and provide opportunities for interactions among different institutes.
The studio continues, “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 most significant addition in the Fenix I is the addition of housing block on top of the warehouse, which has been achieved by giving it a separate foundation and by means of a steel table construction, running it through the existing warehouse structure. The new foundation is inserted in between the warehouse’s existing foundation blocks. On the loft level, the construction has been done by the means of concrete tunnel method, with walls made of disc columns, providing high level of flexibility in the internal layouts.
The apartments are varying in size from 40 to 300 square metres, and all 130 lofts are unique internally. Another unique design feature is the deep 2.5 metres balcony space with glass balustrade that has been provided as a space where the residents can celebrate the views. On the Veerlaan side the building steps back, forming stepped-terrace, creating high-contrast segmented volume that matches the streetscape.
Fenix I incorporates several sustainable strategies to create a building that is adaptable to future changes. The high efficiency glass is optimised to allow optimal level of daylight to every part of the building, while blocking the excess heat entering the apartments. The use of sunshade and balconies further help cut the solar heat and reduces the need for cooling.
The building also uses high efficiency heat recovery system that uses underground thermal storage for cooling and heating of the building. This combined with mechanical ventilation system provides significant decrease in the CO2 emissions in the building. To reduce the use of artificial lighting, the building is supplied with LED lighting. The roof gardens and vertical green courtyards improve the overall wellbeing of the residents while providing connection to Nature in the city settings. These gardens are also used for rainwater collection and use filtration of particles from the air.
Structurally, by using the existing structure, the building significantly reduces its carbon footprint and the adopted construction method provide high level of flexibility and adaptability to future changes by the means of disc columns instead of load bearing walls.
In Fenix I, the team has made all the right moves to create a building which gracefully merges the old with the new, but also in the process activates the area and effortlessly merges the public with the private, providing the city with a new landmark.
Project location: Veerlaan, Rijnhaven, Rotterdam
Architect: Mei architects and planners
Team Mei: Robert Winkel, Robert Platje, Michiel van Loon, Roy Wijte, Arjan Kunst, Sean Bos, Menno van de Woude, King Chaichana, Johan van Es, Rutger Kuipers, Rob Reintjes, Danijel Gavranovic, Adriaan Smidt, Riemer Postma, Kasia Ephraim, Daam van der Leij, Reinoud van der Zijde, Ruben Aalbersberg, Lore van de Venne
Client: Heijmans Vastgoed
Contractor: Heijmans Woningbouw
Construction: ABT, Delft
Building physics & fire: LBP | Sight
Installations: Techniplan adviseurs
Historical research: Suzanne Fischer
Awards: Rotterdam Architectuur Award 2019, Juryprice, Rotterdam Architectuur Award 2019, Public price, Reynaers project award 2019, nomination, MIPIM/AR Future Project Award 2019, 1st price
Mei architects and planners realises leading projects in the Netherlands and abroad. Our work is founded on respect for the environment: for the history of the location, the current context and future living environment. Based on our expertise in the field of adaptive re-use of architectural heritage, new build projects and urban development strategies, we work on designs that put the user first. Our distinct designs tell their own story, which increases the involvement with the building and the connection between its users. With creativity, expertise and courage, we introduce innovative technical applications and user concepts that contribute to social and ecological sustainability.
Mei was founded by Robert Winkel, who leads the firm together with Michiel van Loon and Robert Platje. Established in Rotterdam, we work with an ambitious, international team on assignments in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Russia and Norway, among other countries. The office structure is based on the knowledge divisions of Building Transformation, New Construction and Urban Development, within which research is fostered and knowledge is secured. To further increase brain power and decisiveness, Mei seeks collaboration with various parties in the field, from experts in the area of urban nature to the building materials industry.
Mei’s work has been widely published and awarded. Mei is known for transformation projects such as Fenix I and Jobsveem in Rotterdam and the Cheese Warehouse in Gouda, and new construction such as Schiecentrale 4B and the McDonald’s pavilion at Coolsingel in Rotterdam. With the design and development of SAWA, a fully wooden residential building in Rotterdam, Mei is a pioneer in the field of creating future-proof, nature-inclusive housing. At an urban planning level, Mei specialises in complex inner-city and redevelopment projects. Mei designs dynamic masterplans for, among other things, the site of the former silk factory in Naro-Fominsk (Russia), the OPG location in Utrecht and the Cable District in Delft.