The new visitors centre will be located next to the Grootdok at the Rigakaai. A symbolic place as this is the border between the city and the present-day port.
Until now, participants in organized port visits have been welcomed at the administration building of the Port Company at the John Kennedylaan. Companies, ambassadors as well as organisations, associations and schools pay visits to the port, accounting for 7,000 visitors a year. The new visitors centre will offer more possibilities for the reception of visitors and for turning everyone into a port supporter.
The premises will be equipped with a multifunctional space for receiving groups up to 100 persons. This space will be fitted with multimedia appliances for projecting films and presentations. The hall gives a view of the port and of the activities in the Grootdok and on the quays. The building will also have a large terrace. Moreover, in the Grootdok the port yacht Jacob van Artevelde is moored, on board of which the visitors are able to explore the port every Saturday for free.
Visitors centre and Port House
With the visitors centre the Port Company plays along with the growing interest for Ghent port. On the one hand, this visitors centre will so to speak attract visitors to the port, just like the free tours of the port on board of the port yacht Jacob Van Artevelde. From here, a port visit can be started in a comfortable and arranged way.
On the other hand, in November of last year, Ghent Port Company made a move in quite the opposite direction. It then bought the House of the Free Skippers at the Graslei in the heart of Ghent. By the end of 2014 the Port House will be opened to the public with an exhibition space on the port. Consequently, the Port House brings the port back to its roots: the Graslei, in the centre of “its city”.
The new building will be eye-catching and recognizable because of its special architecture – it partially ‘hangs’ over the quay – and its wooden exterior finish. It will be built with attention for sustainable techniques and materials. For instance, use will be made of solar panels, rainwater, heat recovery and sun blinds among other things. Similar techniques were also used for the Port Company’s administration building, which was the first passive office building in Belgium.
On the ground floor there will be a reception hall and the quarters for the Bargees Department (changing rooms, showers, storage room and canteen). The first floor houses office space and the multifunctional hall with a view on the port.
Flemish Government Architect’s Team
In order to guarantee the excellent quality of the architecture in all its aspects, the Port Company opted for the ‘open call’ procedure via the Flemish Government Architect’s Team, a competition for young architects. 170 candidates showed interest for the project. Out of the five tenderers who were allowed to come and personally elucidate their proposal, eventually the eye-catching contemporary proposal by Tetra was selected.
The construction will be realized by the contracting firm Wyckaert.
In January the first preliminary works were started such as the demolition of the house on the Rigakaai, the former caretaker’s house of the adjoining timber yard. The next phase concerned the real excavation work. On Tuesday, April 17 the laying of the foundation stone was celebrated. The building will be taken into use in spring of 2013.
The necessary facilities for the staff members of the Port Company’s bargees department will also be integrated in the new premises. As a matter of fact, the Port Company equally has a number of own ships at its disposal, among other things for maintaining the water surface, collecting litter and ship-generated waste and supplying drinking-water to seagoing vessels. These bargees and sailors still have their niche aboard the old vessel the ‘Stern’ at the Grootdok.
You can view some pictures of this project.