February 20, 2009
  Delivering Big on a Small Budget
Pasadena fire station uses minimal materials and landscaping to keep costs down

by Heather Livingston
Contributing Editor

How do you . . . design a multipurpose fire station with a strong civic face and a small budget?

Summary: At a cost of only $7 million, Fire Station 105 in Pasadena, by Gonzalez Goodale Architects, makes the most of a small budget through careful selection of materials and minimal landscaping.

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Photos © Magnus Stark.
Rendering courtesy Gonzalez Goodale.

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Fire Station 105 in the city of Arcadia, Calif., had become outdated and outsized with overcrowded corridors and office spaces. The city contracted with Gonzalez Goodale Architects in Pasadena to replace the aging, single-purpose facility with a 21,000-square-foot fire station that would house the engine company’s command center; the fire department’s administrative offices; company living quarters that accommodate13 shift firefighters; an exercise room; an apparatus room with vehicle maintenance capabilities, a decontamination room, and vehicle fueling; and a fire prevention space for public safety education.

Public and private separated
“Most fire stations house only the firefighters and the equipment and are not actually open to the public,” says Don Penman, city manager for Arcadia. “Our new building houses that plus the fire chief, administrative staff, and the prevention officers (inspectors). This group of personnel requires a space that the public can visit. The challenge for the architects was to design a building that does both, that has public spaces but maintains a privacy standard for the firefighters on the job.”

Designed as a contemporary yet friendly neighborhood-scaled structure, the fire station has cleanly articulated public volumes while creating a semi-private courtyard effect in the backyard. As visitors enter the main lobby of the facility, the two-story space evokes the majesty of the building’s function and allows a sense of the activities that occur inside without invading on those activities. Dorm spaces for shift firefighters are located on the second floor, along with a kitchen, study room, and lounge area. Situated on the first floor, in addition to office spaces and the apparatus room, are the exercise, conference, and lounge rooms. The floors and engine room were placed to maximize camaraderie and create an indoor-outdoor flow between kitchen, dining area, and barbecue deck.

The principal materials are smooth-finish cement plaster and limestone cladding, but the architect incorporated copper-clad canopies and lookouts as quiet references to the ladder baskets of fire engines. In addition, copper-clad columns on the building’s public front resemble a ladder on its side. “It really is a very simple steel frame and plaster building,” believes Principal David Goodale, AIA. “What makes it special is the proportion in terms of massing and then the few places where we did have accent materials like the entry and the copper clad look outside.”

Long, narrow site
In addition to the challenge of designing for multiple functions, another key design consideration was the property’s location. The long, narrow site has both large commercial neighbors and small residential ones. The long portion of the site fronts Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia’s main north/south artery, and sits across from a public golf course. At the perimeter of the site, the narrowness precluded significant setbacks, so the design embraces the street in a projection of its civic function.

One benefit of the fire stations’ location was the potential to draw on the site context, which ultimately saved considerable landscaping funds. “With little space for landscaping, the building ‘borrows’ landscape from its context and relies on the character of the street-facing elevation for richness, light, and shade that landscape otherwise provides,” says Goodale.

“It’s kind of a grand street,” says Goodale. “It’s very wide and it has a treed boulevard in the middle of it. Overall, I think the challenge of the fire station was to occupy the street in a way that was aggressive. The street has a lot of cadence to it because of the trees and everything else that happens along it, so the building has a very civic aspect in the way that it faces. There’s a rhythm of columns and window forms that reinforces the vertical nature of the street. It’s a very linear building and there are a series of horizontal lines that make the building reflective of and participating in the traffic and speed of the street.”

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Photos © Magnus Stark.

Rendering courtesy Gonzalez Goodale.

View all the photos in the photo gallery.