Fire station, Vilnius
Fire station & emergency response centre
VILNIUS (LT) - L&G Projects' building adds an energizing vibe to the riverside.
If you ever need to make an emergency call, presumably the most important requirement for the responders' work is speed and accuracy. Thus when it comes to rescue services buildings, efficiency usually comes to the fore, leaving all other criteria behind as dispensable.
Rising on the bank of the river Neris, near the busy traffic bridge, a new fire station and emergency response centre (ERC) proves that a more complex approach towards such buildings can result in miscellaneous benefits to the cityscape, the image of the institution, the public sense of the site and the well-being of the employees.
The unique location required a specific solution: as the main headquarters of two state institutions standing at such a visible point, the building needed a strong visual character; on the other hand, the immediate surroundings were pleading for some subtle intervention.
The project, designed by L&G Projects
(architects Gintautas Vieversys, Laima Tumynienė, Adomas Šablevičius, Valdemaras Stupak and Dovydas Čipkus), even holds some extra ambivalence: while the inner realm is adjusted to the exclusive, highly controlled nature of the institutions housed there, the arrangement of volumes and spaces, and the moderate image of the architecture, declare openness and a connection with the surroundings.
The scale of the 4000 m2 building is reduced by dividing it into several volumes and harnessing both natural gradient and artificial landscape as camouflage. Stretched along the river, the lower part of the building lies partly dug into the descending slope. The pitch of the grass-covered roof merges with the green space in front of the adjacent building of the Vilnius Design College, creating an illusion of a hill. Regrettably, the public accessibility of this attractive open space is just an illusion. Enclosed within a fence, the green terrace can be enjoyed only by the staffs of the fire service and ERC.
The high point of the composition is a horizontal rectangle placed perpendicular to the river on the lower section, pointing at the water with its glass wall. Located beside the bridge, the volume also shields the inner yard from the noise of traffic. A small boathouse, designed in a similar vein, lurks at the very shoreline, almost invisible with a roof covered by the same stone as is used to pave the riverside. The dark grey opaque finish of the facades blends the building with its surroundings, meanwhile defining it clearly in the background of the white volume of the Design College. Its solemn and chaste style, crisp shapes and sparse detailing give it both functional and aesthetic raison d’être, lending the fire station a strong presence without being dominant.
The rigorous image of the building corresponds to the nature of its users, whose proper performance is based on control, order and concentration. The human factor has, however, become the main drive for architectural solutions and spatial arrangement in the project, aimed at providing maximum quality for the work environment and helping the employees to ease fatigue and stress, as well as to deal with being sequestered from the outside world. With respect to the matter-of-course efficiency of the institutions' daily activities, the building provides and supports well-being during every single pause, whether a glance through the window, a stretch outside on the terrace or lunch on the grass roof. The therapeutic effect doesn't encourage loosening the reins completely; it just helps to calm and relax, making sure energy for action and concentration is recharged.
Together with the leisure spaces – lounges, dormitories, spacious terrace and green inner yard – the main hall of the emergency response centre, where 60 people are working at all times, embodies this approach. Occupying almost the entire pipe-like upper volume, the airy space spans over ten metres' height up to the roof, which is perforated with an array of skylights. A huge glazed wall, opening the oblong room to the river, features a constant, real-time broadcast of serene water flow and riverside greenery.
Cohabiting in one building, the two institutions are leading very individual lives thanks to the functional arrangement. The eastern part of the building (the 'pipe') is dedicated to the ERC, while the western part (the lower volumes) accommodates the fire station. The paths of the staffs cross only on the spacious terrace on the second floor and in the green inner yard. The proportion of firefighters there should be highest, as their curious lifestyle provides many spare minutes while on duty – even if there are no emergency calls or training sessions, they cannot leave the building. Their time is mostly spent on the upper (second) floor, where the administrative premises, classroom and dormitories are located, together with a commodious lunchroom and lounge, and connected with the terrace. The two lower floors are filled with a multitude of technical and auxiliary rooms, with the garage brought to the front of the building, proudly showcasing the fire engines through rolling doors made of transparent plastic.
Though the new building doesn't enrich the city with a public space open to everyone, it surely adds an energizing vibe to the riverside, which in time will be converted into a vibrant recreational area. The architecture also alters the public image and awareness about the service of the two institutions. Citizens can watch training in the front yard, or the ongoing toil at the ERC, spot firefighters during their breaks, and form a picture of where our guardian angels spend their daily lives – and that they are humans, too.
April | 2012 | Lithuania | Rūta Leitanaitė