Cadix is a new residential building over six levels and comprises a mix of 27 triplex, duplex, and single level homes, commissioned by the housing association Woonhaven Antwerpen.
The brief was for an apartment building in the area surrounding Antwerp’s old docks as part of the urbanism strategy set out for their redevelopment. The building is located at the junction of two streets, where its L-shaped volume completes the corner of the urban block and defines an open courtyard to the rear between two wings of differing aspect and unit mix.
The western wing accommodates a series of three storey houses with two storey maisonettes above, whereas the southern wing comprises a variety of two and three bedroom dual aspect apartments set above a half basement level of plant space and bicycle storage.
Sitting within the rugged industrial context of the old docks, the new brick building needed to be a robust addition to the neighbourhood that could hold its own against the sturdiness of its historic neighbours. Its masonry volume is softened by the refined detailing of its architectural metalwork, ranging from windows and doors to gates and balustrades, which present a finer character to the parts of the building that residents come into contact with.
Galvanizing within the project
Galvanized metalwork is used for all communal balustrading in the project. Most evident is the undulating access deck at second floor on the rear facade, which provides access to the upper level maisonettes in the western wing.
The undulations mark the rhythm of party walls between dwellings and swell outwards in front of each front door and kitchen window to provide a generous space for each family to occupy that catches the south-eastern sun.
The guarding is formed by alternating circular and flat rods, which fixed radially along each curve, catch the light in different ways to shimmering effect. The access gallery is served at either end by a staircase: to the south the main core that provides access to the apartments in the southern wing; and to the north a second stair that descends through a triple-height void to provide a secondary means of escape.
As with the access gallery, each staircase has a spatial generosity, with the main stair core rising through a full height void that allows light and air to circulate, enriching and enlivening the experience of arriving home.
The guarding to both staircases follows the same pattern of flat and rod, which in these covered spaces provides an even deeper play between light and dark as the alternating verticals reflect in different ways.
The balustrade to the main stair extends the full height between concrete floor slabs, to a total of four storeys high, which as it catches the light, provides a lantern-like effect at the heart of the communal circulation, in profound contrast with the dark brickwork that lines this space.
A galvanized handrail is attached to the lantern screen with figure-eight fixing plates – a decorative response to a functional need for tolerance during installation. At the foot of the stair, the handrails gently arc outwards, reinforcing the sense of welcome for residents.
Where the upper floors of the main core touch the facade, balustrading is again galvanised; flat on three levels and curved at second floor where the core flows out onto the access gallery. The experience of the rear courtyard garden is therefore defined by the juxtaposition between the substantial masonry mass of the building and the delicate tracery-like metalwork that is layered in front of it.
The effect is completed by galvanized woven fences that occupy the foreground of the view, bounding the intimate private gardens at ground floor. Being closest to the shared garden, this fencing is deliberately the lightest gauge of all of the metalwork, in order to provide the most subtle play of light, whilst also providing a framework for planting over by residents as they inhabit their gardens over the years to come.
Why galvanizing was used
There were several strands to the thought process that resulted in galvanizing be specified for the important communal design features in the building.
Foremost amongst these was the direct and unpretentious nature of the finish, together with its attractive material qualities. Combined with the relative cost of galvanizing compared with other materials and finishes that can work within the same constraints of budget, longevity, material strength, and aesthetic appeal, it offered unparalleled value for this 100% affordable housing project.
Whilst all dwellings within the building are for sale to local people at below market rates, the housing association client will retain responsibility for the freehold and upkeep of communal areas.
The robustness and durability of galvanizing and its minimal maintenance requirements were therefore imperative considerations for agreeing the design approach.
From an aesthetic point of view, galvanizing contributes to the desired character of the architecture at both the scale of the building and at that of individual details. The manner in which it catches the light and in which light and shadow play vibrantly across its surface bring a delicate filigree nature to the balustrading, providing a subtle ornament to the overall composition.
Seen up close the understated variegations in patina provide an attractive depth of expression, which compliments the equally rich surrounding materials of brickwork and cast stone. As these are the parts of the building that will be touched and experienced through the act of living here, the fact that the galvanized finishes will dull or polish dependent on use and wear, will add a further layer of refinement to this appearance as the building ages.
Images © David Grandorge & Brendan Woods
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