Fire stations of the world: Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany
The Vitra Fire Station is situated in Weil am Rhein in Germany. After the major fire in 1981, Vitra Campus decided it would be a good idea to have its own fire brigade. Zaha Hadid was commissioned with designing a building for it (1989–93). Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-born British architect known for her radical deconstructivist designs. In 2004 she became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Vitra Fire Station is the very first building complex designed by Zaha Hadid. Composed of a series of sharply angled planes, the structure resembles a bird in flight. It consists of space for fire engines, showers and changing rooms for the firemen as well as a conference room and a kitchenette. The sculpture-like building was cast in concrete on site. Positioned alongside the angular features of the neighbouring production facilities, it has the effect of a frozen explosion. Its lack of colour and right angles provides visitors with an unusual spatial experience. Knowing that its company fire brigade could only combat a fire in its initial stages and could not replace the public fire services, Vitra decided to disband its fire brigade a few years later. Since that time, the rooms have been used for events and exhibitions held by the Vitra Design Museum. Today, the Weil fire services are responsible for the Vitra Campus. Together with the Basel fire services, they assume the role of protecting the Vitra Campus.
This building deals with the problem of bringing together an idea of landscape with the programme of the factory. Hadid's intention was of 'sucking in' urbanism into the site and also to pull in the landscape. In this sense the Vitra factory is perceived as a huge mass and paradoxically the insertion of another new building was chosen as the way to break it and channel in the vitality of a fresh urbanity.
The proposals for the functions of this building were always elastic. The idea of the Programmatic wall absorbs the expansions and contractions of the programs as the spaces slide into each other. At one point the volumes begin to converge and the ceiling to break to create an entrance canopy. At the same time there is also the idea of bringing light into this plane whether is day or night.
The building is made out of the garage space and the three 'beams'; these are long, thin volumes that contain the working spaces. The roof of the garage rests on four walls and is illuminated from the floor. When the doors are open, it seems very light. During the design process Hadid already perceived that this large space could host uses different from that of a garage. Nowadays this space serves as another exhibition gallery for the Vitra Design Museum/Vitra Chair Museum.
The building is 90 metres long. The interiors are dark green and dark red with the exception of the 'wall of light' that is gold. At the entrance, where the canopy and all the spaces meet, the volumes overlap and there is also a cut in the ceiling where the stair appears. The lighting comes from the edges, following the idea that the building is made out of walls that eventually become volumes.
The room upstairs cantilevers over the courtyard, creating a terrace that also serves as the roof for the space below. The louvers of this room give thermal control to the south facing spaces, while the opposite facade is dominated by large frameless windows, all the more impressive because of the curvature of the building.
There is a preoccupation for the idea of layering and how the solid or transparency defines the spaces. Light is the medium that allows for the transformation of planes into volumes containers of space, and the control over the quality of light in these spaces is determinant.
The transparency is enormous, at moments is hard to tell what is outside and what is inside. The potential of creating a space of great flexibility in the context of the Vitra factory is tied with the idea o 'sucking in' urbanity. The firemen, who are part of the workforce at Vitra, could invite other workers to come and use the facilities for social gatherings of the workers in general and they could also use it to entertain each other or even invite other people to barbecues for example. In this way the building is transformed into a 'social condenser'.
Sources: Britannica and Jenny SI Ting