29 Jan 2010
In addition to the residential work, I also design fire stations. I love fire stations – they are fun to work on, most of them are interesting to look at and the activities that go on inside are typically a lot of fun. I suppose there is the obvious connection between these two user groups which would suggest that any architect that does residential work could also do a fire station – but that’s not true.
Fire Stations are extremely complicated buildings technically and they are one of the few commercial building types that are open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is also the challenge of integrating commercial uses with immediate adjacency to residential uses so that the building can maintain the duality of its purpose by providing a home to the people that live there while serving the greater public at large (people actually walking into a station for help). It should be pointed out that in my residential work, I don’t design kitchens with 3 refrigerators, living rooms with 12 barcalounger’s, community bathrooms with handicapped accessibility and mixed gender community sleeping areas. Actually, we do design mixed gender community sleeping areas but not for 12 people.
You have to consider that fire stations are civic buildings that are placed in residential environments, and that while these buildings need to fulfill many perceptions from the public at large, more specifically they need to address the perception of the community they serve. This could mean breaking the components of the building into smaller units and selecting materials so that the station fits into its neighborhood. It could also mean adjusting the architectural features to create a heightened sense of civic pride and stability.
Whenever I am meeting with a group of fire fighters, it doesn’t take long before one of them will mention that they hate when people describe fire stations as a house with a really fancy garage. While it is true that a portion of the building serves as the residence for the shifts of fire fighters who work there, there are public spaces designated for community uses, training areas, workout facilities, offices and watch stations
There are typically 3 crews of varying size that operate in 24 hour shifts – work one 24 hour day, off the next 48 hours and repeat. (Do the math – they are on duty over 800 hours more per year than the typical 8-5 M-F worker. That’s over 100 days more – no more weekends for you, get to work). They spend a lot of time in these buildings and their culture is highly defined (and for my fire fighter friends, I said defined, not evolved). They cook together, eat together, exercise together, and risk their lives together. To say they develop close personal bonds to one another is putting it lightly. In an effort to better understand how the fire fighters use these spaces, I have gone out on 24 hour shift ride-a-longs as this is really the best way to see how fire fighters spend their time while on duty and how they interact with the building; do the spaces work, what do they like, what do they hate, etc.
As serious as this work is (and it is deadly serious) I have never met a fire fighter who didn’t love their job. The enthusiasm for their job is extremely contagious and I always think how much I would like to be a member of this unique fraternity after every visit I make to a fire station. I have always been warmly welcomed and incorporated into the group for my day working the shift (even received a few nicknames that I will keep to myself).
If you ever get the chance to spend time with these amazing people and observe them during a shift you should do it – you will have an experience you will never forget.
Some quick info about the images here – the station at the top was the second station we designed and it won a national 2010 Bronze Station Style Award. This is Rowlett Station #1 – the main station – and it had a design goal of projecting the civic pride of this community.
The first movie here is for a station still in the design stage and is designed to fit in the scale and material palette of the residential neighborhood where it resides.
The last movie was a short film we produced to illustrate that despite the technological advancements that have occurred the culture of fire stations has not. The black and white station shown here is DFD Station #31, one of the oldest post WWII stations in the Dallas Fire Department.