Northwest NEWS

October 8, 2001

Local News

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Fire Station 31: An architectural perspective

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   OK, so it's not the Parthenon. It's probably safe to say that the Seattle firm of TCA Architecture Planning that designed Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District Station 31 never intended to copy ancient buildings when it undertook the job on the Woodinville-Snohomish Road, just east of the post office. Besides, ancient blueprints (if such things ever existed) could hardly be adapted to the needs of 21st century Woodinville - let alone to a fire district.
   The new fire station is, however, harmonious with the city's commercial design principles.
   It does, in its own way, incorporate the Northwest woodland character and agrarian elements that the city of Woodinville set out in its design guidelines. (Those guidelines, by the way, were settled upon, according to Becky Perkins, senior planner for the city of Woodinville, with the help of citizen advisory panels and public meetings held over a 1-1/2 year period.)
   It is as if the $3 million 20,000-square-foot fire station harkens back, if not to ancient times, then to fundamentals. It sports clean, understated lines that are austere, robust, strong. It's almost as if one can tell that there is nothing unnecessary in the building; nothing for which one cannot see a purpose. It does not look heavy or clumsy, but rather large and imposing with a balanced design. Oh, yes, it is a utilitarian structure. The ideas of clarity and simplicity aren't hidden. There is little illusion of reality, no swerving curves, no complicated patterns, few decorations, few windows seen from the street.
   Its style is in keeping with the Northwest's informal building traditions and, to borrow an apt phrase from architectural writers Virginia and Lee McAlester, "it illustrates a middle-of-the-road conservatism in which its traditional design can seem almost modern in its simplicity."
   Architect Eric Schaer of TCA, a firm whose work is roughly 90 percent fire- service related, remains active on the Station 31 project. He said, "Generally speaking, the kinds of materials used, the metals, the masonry, the wood, appeal to the rural nature of the community. ... There was no thought of mimicking any particular style. We intentionally tried to use the materials, the pitch of the roof, the way we broke the building up, to convey the rural style."
   Not wanting to have the station sitting in a big box, the architects intentionally broke the building into pieces, "... kind of like on a ranch or a farm, so that the look was more like a house, a barn and a shed," said Schaer. "This 'breaking up' reduces the scale of the overall building. And the walkways and landscaping act as a barrier between the building and the street. Obviously, there is a certain functioning that has to be met. It's not practical to have the engines drive out of the back of the building. And the pathways are important, too. This is, after all, a public building in which public meetings will be held and the entryway is important."
   Schaer, a Cal-Poly (California State Polytechnic College, San Luis Obispo) graduate, originally began his studies in art and seeing no practical application, gravitated to three-dimensional work: architecture. He cited Frank Lloyd Wright as an influence, primarily because the church he attended as a boy in Redding, Calif., was designed by Wright.
   "But I think I speak for all of us when I say we're not trying to copy anything. We look at a site to determine what best fits it. We look to the community, to adjacent buildings, to the attitude of the population. These things have more to do with how a building turns out than picking any particular style."
   The station's colors, a muted yellow and mauve, were selected by "a huge committee, including the city of Woodinville," said Schaer. "Several schemes were presented, some much brighter. We went with earth tones. The yellow is not a 'caution' yellow. It's definitely an earth-tone yellow."
   For those wondering, yes, the building is fully "sprinklered." "The building follows every single code every other building does," said Schaer. "The Fire Marshal comes around here as often as with any other new construction, forcing the contractor to comply with code."
   As for the building layout, Fire Chief Steve Smith said, "The administrative section is on the east side." It includes offices, a place for records, a lobby and a public meeting room. "The apparatus bay is in the center [it houses the fire engines] and the crew quarters are on the west." Crew quarters include a sleeping area, a kitchen, a dining room, a day room, offices, restrooms, showers.
   The large tower on which the station number 31 is displayed is "just an architectural feature," said Deputy Chief Ed Nelson, "to convey the ... country atmosphere."
   It does not contain some sort of a training stairway. Though Schaer said, "There is room on the back of the lot for a training tower, but that may or may not happen. It's definitely something for the future."
   Said Nelson, "This is a basic fire station built so that we can function. There's nothing out of the ordinary about it."
   Chief Smith concurred. "It contains the typical things of a fire station. We wanted to stay modest to keep the cost down. It does allow for future expansion, which our current station on 144th [19900 144th Ave. NE] doesn't allow."
   Woodinville Fire and Life Safety has been at the 144th Avenue location for 14-1/2 years. Both chiefs said the new station is more centrally located and would lower response times.
   Woodinville Fire employs 72 full-time and six part-time staff at its four station houses and responds to approximately 4,000 calls or incidents a year in its 36-square-mile district. Approximately 19 employees will be moving to the new station the five or six 24/7 crew, fire prevention staff and fire administration staff.
   The station was paid for with reserve funds, some bond money and a low-interest 15-year state loan, that will be paid back with money from the sale of the 144th Avenue station. That station has already been sold.
   Even though from the outside the building appears to be nearing completion, the district does not have a move-in date yet.
   "We certainly hope to be in soon," said Nelson.