Practice expected to beat European rivals to win competition for Antwerp complex designed to be symbolic gateway to the city.
Architect Richard Rogers Partnership was this week set to win an international competition to design a £50m law courts complex in Antwerp, Belgium.

The practice, working with Belgian multidisciplinary associate Van Kerckhove, was expected to be awarded the commission at a ceremony at Antwerp City Hall today. A key requirement in the brief was that the courts should stand as a symbolic gateway to the city.

If Richard Rogers wins, he will have beaten Paris-based Claude Vasconi and Belgian Michel Jaspers, who were shortlisted last October from a long list of 10 firms in the two-stage competition.

Richard Rogers' design features seven timber courtrooms up to 40 m high linked to a daylit central chamber by wings containing office and support space.

Several smaller timber courtrooms sit at a higher level. The smaller chambers are covered with a roof of timber shells that touch each other forming an outline that one project source likened to "Sydney Opera House meets a Kentish oast house".

The source said: "The roof is part of the building's basic environmental system, as wind running past the top of the timber shells draws heat out of the court rooms."

The 50 000 m2 court complex will be built at Bolivarplaats, a pedestrianised square to the south-east of the city centre, over a main road on the site of the former Antwerp South railway station.

The three finalists had four months to work up final detailed designs. Vasconi's design featured twin towers, and so fulfilled the requirement of providing a gateway to the city. However, in the first stage design, the scheme was rejected because the towers were thought to be too high. Vasconi's pared-down, second-stage design was considered less interesting. Jaspers' design was judged too monumental.

The law courts will house 900 staff. Construction will begin in 2000 and is scheduled to be completed in 2003.

Ove Arup & Partners is consulting engineer on the project and Wirtz International is landscape architect.

A source said the Belgian ministry of public works was not unduly worried about the innovative structure, despite problems that had occurred in Bordeaux, where Rogers designed a courts complex where glass mullions cracked.