Santiago Fire Station
A restaurant visible through the glassy front facade strikes me as a wonderful urban response, allowing the life of the neighborhood to permeate the building. There is also a spot to display an antique water pumper — a part of the 18th Brigade's long history of firefighting in the community.
Behind the glass wall is a sweeping staircase that traverses the facade, rising two stories to the second and third floors. The second floor of this wing contains community living spaces for the shift firefighters, including lounges, dining spaces, training spaces, and offices.
The next level up holds a large meeting room, smaller meeting spaces, offices, and bunk rooms and bathrooms for the shift firefighters (located directly above the engine room). On the second and third levels, fire poles have been placed at strategic spots in the living and working spaces to deliver the firefighters directly to the engine room on the first level.
With its glass walls, slender concrete columns, and exposed-concrete tray of space on the third floor, the architecture of the 18th Fire Station strikes one as an homage to Le Corbuiser. If you squint you might imagine the building as the Villa Savoye with fire trucks.
If the firehouse is Corbusier on the front, it is definitely Marcel Breuer on the back — very stolid, with lots of play of shadow and light on the cast-concrete surfaces. This split in the building's personality is a direct response to the firehouse's dual function of community service and private housing for the firemen.
To the rear of the building, Mardones Viviani has designed the residences to be the same in scale as the existing houses in the neighborhood. There are two townhouses, entered from a central hallway. Each residence has its own walled garden space at ground level, which is a common pattern in this neighborhood.
Along the entry facade on the second floor is a metal louvered screen that helps shade the sun and encourages natural ventilation. The two residences each have three bedrooms, with views out over the neighborhood. The bunk wing for the shift firefighters contains a balcony that surveys the community as well.
The architect has used color sparingly yet effectively in the 18th Fire Station. Most of the materials are left raw and exposed. The reinforced concrete walls contain titanium dioxide, an agent that actually eats away stains and pollutants and should keep the concrete crisp and clean for its lifetime.
Color is used boldly over the engine room wing, which is clad in bright red Alucobond panels. Mardones Viviani describes this use of color on the firehouse as Fauvist, referring to the movement by early modern French painters such as Gauguin who used vibrant, earthy colors.
The art history reference might be lost on many of those who see and use this building everyday, but there is no mistaking the glow of the red panels at night, illuminated by spotlights, which appear to be a row of vigil candles across the fire station's top, symbolizing the service of the ever-vigilant firefighters as they keep watch over the neighborhood.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Hartford, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.