Restoration customs warehouse

The customs warehouse is a protected monument in Essen that was equipped with state-of-the-art facilities during its restoration. Anyone who walks into the customs warehouse is immediately amazed by the beautifully restored space.



Building type Public
Location Essen
Architect ANNO Architecten

Innovative solar panels for customs warehouse

You can’t immediately tell, but this historic building hides a high-tech installation. At a height of 16 metres, the building flaunts an innovative light street with transparent solar panels. The light street is part of a European Interreg Flanders-Netherlands project in which several partners investigated how monuments can be made more sustainable.

Yesterday, the light street was completed under the approving eye of the architect, the municipality of Essen and Kempens Landschap. The historic skylight, of which the original glass had long since disappeared, was fitted with ‘Building Integrated Photo Voltaics’ or BIPV panels. From now on, no less than 800 m² of glass will be lit and generate electricity at the same time. This feat of technology is an uncommon installation in a listed building.

European demonstration project

With the Dutch province of North Brabant, Kempens Landschap stepped into the DEMI MORE project in 2016. The eloquent name stands for ‘Demonstration of Energy efficiency by Measurement and Innovation gives More’. “For the past few years, we have been investigating how protected monuments can be made more sustainable,” explains Kathleen Helsen, co-president of Kempens Landschap and deputy of the province of Antwerp. “We all need to live as energy-efficiently as possible and historic buildings also play a role in achieving this. However, it is difficult to apply standard solutions such as insulation or double glazing in valuable heritage buildings. Six demonstration projects in the Netherlands and Flanders were therefore scrutinised by experts in DEMI MORE. The light street proved to be an interesting case for the customs warehouse. For its construction, the municipality could count on a European subsidy of 324,500 euros and provincial co-financing of 125,800 euros,” continues Helsen.


Innovative customisation

With the city council, Kempens Landschap took up the challenge of applying a new innovative technique to the warehouse. The Heritage Agency approved the installation of the solar panels while respecting the historic building. To have the design and installation of the light street fully customised, the municipality of Essen launched a competitive dialogue. Vorsselmans was appointed to bring this challenging assignment to a successful conclusion.

Jan De Haes, deputy of the province of Antwerp and co-chairman of Kempens Landschap explains how it went: “An agency went to work to draw up a hygrothermal study. We calculated which type of solar panels would allow sufficient light to pass through and would not have a negative impact on the underlying steel structure of the historic roof. After all, the steel trusses cannot overheat as this could jeopardise the stability of the building. The appearance of the profiles was also thoroughly considered so that the visual picture matches the vision. The result is an operational light street that was fantastically integrated into the restored warehouse.”

Copyright Bart van Overbeeke – vzw Kempens Landschap


The Mayor’s opinion

The light street is a beautiful contemporary addition to this progressive building.

Mayor Gaston Van Tichelt concludes: “The installation fits perfectly into the warehouse. After all, when the customs warehouse was built in 1902, modern technologies of that time, such as strand bricks and a slender steel structure, were also used. The light street is a beautiful, contemporary addition to this progressive building. Annually, the panels will generate about 20,000 kWh. The electricity will probably be fully utilised by Robotland, an educational technology park that will be located in the warehouse.”

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