Fire Station in Toulouse
by Stéphane Gruet
French architect Pierre Debeaux was known as an uncompromising artist, a rigorous geometer, and a passionate master builder. The Jacques Vion Firehouse in the city of Toulouse remains unquestionably his major work, the epitome of his late mature style.
Here, within an organic, monumental synthesis, one finds the sum of Debeaux's architectural, plastic, structural, and harmonic preoccupations, down to the common laws of architecture and music which the line of Gioseffo Zerlino's diatonic scale symbolizes, reverse-molded into one of the entrance-hall pillars.
The firehouse, commissioned in 1966, represents the height and turning point of the architect's career. Aside from the modern planning principles of vertical densification, orientation toward the sun, and restitution of the ground plan for free pedestrian circulation, Debeaux deploys here all his structural and plastic inventiveness, exploiting the resources of reinforced concrete shells in the form of regulated surfaces, including double-warp quadric type surfaces: hyperboloids and hyperbolic paraboloids.
Simultaneously straight and curved, flexible and taut, which appeal to both reason and sensitivity, these surfaces satisfied "artist and geometrician."
The multiple surfaces are deployed from the masts to the gallery vaults, from the pillars to the vast corbelled roof over the wide vehicle garage, passing the walls and wood-coffered ceilings of the auditorium, where they are more precisely used for their acoustic qualities and the reception hall.
One also discovers a feature in this project which occupied the architect through his later years, a new type of tensegrity structure — used here for the first time as a structural component in the building — "isostat" tensegrity cells composed of space-frames to cover the vehicle garage and the gymnasium. >>>
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This article is excerpted from Pierre Debeaux: The Artist and the Geometer by Stéphane Gruet, with permission of the publisher, Editions Poiesis-Aera.
The Jacques Vion Firehouse, designed by Pierre Debeaux in the 1960s for the city of Toulouse, France.
Photo: Stéphane Gruet
Inside the firehouse equipment hall.
Photo: Christian Cros
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