Bohlin Cywinski Jackson design West Seattle’s new, modern firehouse

Built on the site of the previous facility, BCJ have completed West Seattle’s newest firehouse, Fire Station 32.

Based in the US, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects (BCJ) are known for their elegant designs, with projects ranging from charming residential properties to academic, civic and cultural buildings – to name a few. BCJ maintain a collaborative process with their clients, making sure that they research and analyse “each situation’s particular human, technical and economic circumstances” in order to create a project that resonates with its surroundings.

Recently, BCJ have completed work on ‘City of Seattle Fire Station 32’ – a project that perfectly demonstrates how architecture can reflect the needs of the client. Fire Station 32 is located in the heart of the West Seattle Alaska Junction neighbourhood; an 18,000 square-foot facility, it is home to several branches of West Seattle’s serving fire-fighters – Engine Company 32, Ladder Company 11, Medic Unit 32 and Battalion Chief 7.

The new, modern Fire Station 32 was created to replace the previous 40-year-old facility which stood in the same spot. BCJ had to be particularly aware that the project site occupied a threshold between dense neighbourhood commercial zones, and quieter, single family residential areas. As part of the brief, BCJ found that the station needed to be able to address the scale of the visitor, the street and the neighbourhood, as well as providing fire-fighters and medics with a space to respond to quickly respond to emergencies.

Built over four floors, Fire Station 32 features an underground storage area and three floors above ground, as well as stacked parking spaces for the station staff. The lower floors of the station are used for administration and operations, while the third floor houses fire-fighter living areas. One of BCJ’s biggest challenges for the project was the layout of the fire station, which was mostly restricted by the apparatus bay.

Carved by a West Seattle resident for the previous Fire Station 32 and inspired by toy fire trucks, a 25-foot-tall wall-mounted fire truck sculpture is wall mounted above the fire station entrance. This large public art piece indicates the low canopy below, where visitors can enter and view the apparatus bay and bunker gear storage room – or take part in a free blood pressure screening.

Meanwhile, the north wall of the apparatus bay has been fully glazed to showcase Fire Station 32’s 59-foot ladder truck, as well as to display the fire-fighters work activities to nearby residents and passers-by. Visible to the outside beyond the fire engines are a pair of two-story brass sliding poles; these provide fire-fighters with direct access to the apparatus bay from the third floor living quarters, allowing them to easily respond to call-outs.

Behind the apparatus bay, the tall, dark hose drying tower features one red wall and a ‘lantern effect’ at night, effectively acting as a beacon for residents and visitors - no matter the time of day. The tower is also a visual symbol for Fire Station 32, marking the point between the residential hillside to the south and the tall mixed-use buildings to the north.

Up on the third floor, BCJ has divided the fire-fighter living spaces based on their uses. Public spaces including the beanery and station office are visible along the street, and a small balcony gives fire-fighters a relaxing outdoor space. Meanwhile, individual offices and private bunk rooms are located along the quieter, residential sides of the station, giving station staff the option of retreating to these calmer spaces if they feel the need to.

As well as working within the boundaries of the working fire station’s needs, BCJ has designed Fire Station 32 to be highly energy efficient; it provides natural daylight and views to the exterior throughout and has recently earned LEED Platinum certification. Though the station has been created to enhance station staff well-being, BCJ has also not forgotten that ultimately, the building needs to provide a fast response time for fire-fighters and medics.

“A fire station is not just where firefighters work—it is where we live, trade stories, and decompress,” mentions Michael “Miki” Mann, a fire-fighter and paramedic at Fire Station 32. “The success of this space, the way it is designed to enhance group interaction and team building, cannot be underestimated”. With their newly improved Fire Station 32, it would seem West Seattle is in safe hands.

All images: Nic Lehoux

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