Philippe Samyn, the architect behind the Charleroi Fire Station in Charleroi, Belgium, partnered with Alain Sabbe and Hugues Wilquinn to write The Fire Station Charleroi. The book explores the life led by firemen, the design competition for the building, the plans, the design versus the reality, and the sustainability and artistic nature of the project.
The authors begin by describing the life and work of firefighters – the long hours, the dangers they face, and the different rooms in firehouses. This builds context for the design of the firehouse and the inspiration behind designing such a grand, beautiful space for these hard-working individuals. With commentary from the architect throughout, the process of designing the firehouse for the competition is described, as well as the changes made during construction. The firehouse is unique in its shape – the building is circular. The selection committee “complained of the maneuvering difficulties fire engines and other emergency vehicles would have due to…insufficient space” (pg. 39). So, Samyn and his colleagues recommended the circular form, with folding doors to allow easy, quick access in and out of the fire station. Everything about the station, from its location to its shape to the colors selected are meant to provide comfort and easy accessibility. Throughout the book are photos and drawings which demonstrate the look, functionality, and details of the Charleroi Fire Station.
Oftentimes, fire stations are small buildings, leading to cramped conditions and difficulty in maneuvering firetrucks in and out of the station. The Charleroi Fire Station presents an alternative to this: a massive, open facility meant to service firefighters’ needs. These individuals put their lives on the line every day they go to the station – do they not deserve the very best spaces? Additionally, the circular garage allows for faster departure times for trucks, and the location of Charleroi on a hill provides easy access to roads, leading to a faster response. In other words, this beautiful space actually produces improvements in job performance, cutting down on time, which can literally be the difference between life and death for an individual. While projects like Charleroi are expensive and time-consuming, the impact of the project proves that building high quality, functional, beautiful fire stations improves the experience of firefighters and helps them to save lives – is that not worth every penny?