Project Dallas Fire Station 27
Client City of Dallas
Design Team Ron Stelmarski, AIA; Phil Callison, AIA; Kent Pontious; Ashwin Toney; Meredith Hunt, Assoc. AIA; Tori Wickard, AIA; Gardner Vass; Lauren Love; Matthew Johnson
Photographers Thomas McConnell; James Steinkamp Photography
The serenity of the generic city is achieved by the evacuation of the public realm, as in an emergency fire drill. The urban plane now only accommodates necessary movement, fundamentally the car; highways are a superior version of boulevards and plazas, taking more and more space; their design, seemingly aiming for automotive efficiency, is in fact surprisingly sensual, a utilitarian pretense entering the domain of smooth space. —Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City,” 1995, The Monacelli Press, p. 1251
So often what we rate as “good” architecture falls somewhere between materially luxurious and technically alternative, on some imaginary dial. We forget that the generic city model that American postwar culture fought so hard to attain is actually worth considering for some architectural purposes. Fire Station 27 is a prime example. Strategically located along Northwest Highway at the Dallas North Tollway, Dallas’ newest fire and rescue station, No. 27, is proof that efficiency, economy, and utility serve as successful guides to designing for America’s car-centric urban culture. And while these rational principles are challenged more and more each day in our growing cities, they continue to be useful when it comes to putting out fires.
In roughly 45 seconds, a four-member fire and rescue team can be out of bed, suited up, safely secured in their apparatus (otherwise known as a firetruck), and en route to any array of unfortunate circumstances that has come about. “All of this is practiced thoroughly,” said Ron Stelmarski, AIA, project designer at Perkins+Will. “Architecturally speaking, it’s about creating a framework that supports this efficiency reliably and efficiently, and then finding interesting ways to integrate the building with its surrounding community. It’s kind of backwards, but that’s the nature of the building type and the main intent for the design.”
Programmatically speaking, the building begins with the apparatus bay, a sort of mechanical command hub with which all things fire and rescue begin and end. The design provides two “pass-through” lanes — four total apparatus bays — and features high-speed bi-parting doors at the front and overhead doors at the rear. Trucks can pull in from the rear without having to stop traffic on the busy highway. A bar of utility rooms lines the interior.
Each bay is equipped with drop-down hose reels conveying air, water, and electricity, as each apparatus may be literally plugged in between each run in order to recharge. When the siren sounds, the bay doors open, and as the firetruck departs, the hoses detach quickly. Being this type of mechanical hub, the apparatus bay and the vehicles require constant maintenance and cleaning; thus, it is the primary social space at the station. As if the analogy between man and machine hadn’t already been made completely clear, a full-glass fitness room hung above the apparatus bay serves as a reminder, it also acts as a form of skylight for the bay itself.
Opposite the apparatus bay lie the more intimate social spaces: a day room, kitchen, break room, and small outdoor patio. Located above on the second level are the partial living quarters — three bunk rooms that can sleep up to 12 personnel at a time, plus offices for the chief, captain, and lieutenant. The finishes are bare, and the scale reminds you more of a college dorm than an apartment or hotel room, yet it’s this transient nature of the firehouses that makes them so efficient in a job where seconds really do matter. This transient element separates firehouses from residential and healthcare buildings; firehouses are something far more civic-minded.
“What we tried to do was take these two main elements of the firehouse (people and machines) and connect them by way of something more public and engaging,” says Stelmarski. “By opening to the street, the intent was to bring in some north light and give a glimpse of the station to the community.” Indeed, the light in this two-story space is unlike that in any other firehouse you’ve likely entered. In collaboration with a local aluminum craftsman, the glossy red painted panels provide a delightful media for a graphic history and even a small exhibit at the ground level. Stelmarski continues, “We wanted to set a new standard of quality for the fire department, so that meant elevating everything from the presence on the street to the day-to-day interior experience.”
For the passing driver, the building is immediately striking as it abruptly contrasts with the beige world around it. The use of in-situ concrete not only makes the building appear more durable than its neighboring structures, it sends a message of permanence in a context of fleeting disposability. The 16-ft-tall “27” cast into the wall in Helvetica font is a more literal example. The glossy red panels, as a light and playful skin, thus have some balance and grounding on the site.
It should be noted that there are no Dalmatians here, no fire poles, and firefighters don’t wear their bunker gear around the shop. In fact, there are fewer and fewer fires to attend to, and more and more accidents in need of rapid attention. These men and women don’t claim to be heroes, and they don’t belong to the country clubs around town. That said, they do their job with pride and have your general welfare in mind. Fire Station 27 is the first of a new generation of firehouses for a new generation of fire and rescue personnel working in a complex suburban transition. And if you take nothing else away from this article: don’t text and drive.
Ryan Flener, Assoc. AIA, is a designer with Baldridge Architects in Austin.