An Interview with Rice Fergus Miller on the Seattle Fire Station No. 35

The new Seattle Fire Station No. 35.


Howard Struve, Senior Associate with Rice Fergus Miller spoke with me about the award-winning Seattle Fire Station No. 35 project in the upper Ballard, Crown Hill neighborhood that opened last year.  A native of Bremerton, Howard has been with Rice Fergus Miller for more than 15 years.
Howard, what are your areas of excellence in your design practice?

My primary market focus is fire and emergency services.  My first fire station project was for Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue, No. 56, in the Seabeck area, in 1995.  Since that time, our firm has grown the practice from local area clients to greater Puget Sound, including, King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties.
What are some of the biggest changes that you have experienced in Architectural Design?

One change is the focus on designing green buildings. Station 35 required minimum LEED Silver certified building, which is a city standard.  We achieved LEED Gold for this project.
Now that Fire Station No. 35 is operational, have you gotten any feedback on how it is functioning?

A lot of what I hear comes from the Seattle Fleet and Facilities Project Manager who says that the City is very happy with the facility and so are the firefighters who work out of the station.  If you had seen what they had then versus what they have now, you would understand why they are delighted!
What was the process with the City and the community in creating the architectural design?

Early in the project, we met with Fleet and Facilities and the Seattle Fire Department to determine the project objectives and user needs.  To be successful in Seattle, the design must fit in the context of the community and be accepted by the Seattle Design Commission.  On the one hand, you design for the users; on the other, your design must meet the approval of the commission.  To ensure community input into the design, the Fire Department held open houses at the old station.  The community could see and comment on the design of the building and participate in the direction of the design.  That was a goal:  to make sure the new building fit in the community while being functional for the fire fighters.  Every fire service client we have ever worked with has wanted to be a friendly neighbor.

The new structure has windows on all possible sides.

Are you pleased with the building’s appearance?

Oh yes, it is a fabulous building.  It is very photogenic and fits in the community well.  The new Station 35 has a brick façade, as did the old facility, giving it a connection to the old station even though it is a new structure.  The horizontal metal siding is also a good fit for the building. It is truly a beautiful building. The additional glazing on this new facility provides an overall transparent feel. In the old fire station, the firefighters were behind concrete and masonry.  The new structure has windows on all the sides that it possibly can – especially the lobby and apparatus bay.  It is much easier to find the main entrance into this building!
Is there a backstory with the art?

The art design is a twist on the old fire ladder. The artist was really engaged on this facility.  She wanted the design to feel like ‘fire service’ all over it. With the neon element and appearance of fire, that objective was achieved.  It also blends well with the community.  It (the art) gives the site a real iconic feel…energizes the station.  During design, the architect, artist, and structural designer (Reid Middleton’s Corbin Hammer) collaborated on attaching the art to the building, creating a canopy over the entrance to the lobby. It became a solid design element.

The art attaches to the building, creating a canopy over the entrance.

How would you describe your overall experience on this project?

Great experience!  I really enjoyed working on Fire Station 35 and was happy to be part of the Construction Administration, in particular.  Everyone involved in this project worked really well together.  There were weekly meetings and, coming from Bremerton, I would hop on the ferry, walk to the Seattle Fleet & Facilities office, carpool to the project site with the project manager, and return home on the ferry.  I got a lot of exercise …a very sustainable process!

Before this project, unless you lived there, most people would never know there was a fire station at this location because it was nondescript and set back from the street. Now, it is a significant part of the community appearance.  The 1930s era fire station did not accommodate today’s firefighting practice.  The new two-story building provides for better storage for equipment, apparatus bays, decontamination station, and improved lobby.  It is recognized as being a part of the community, and that fits the fire department’s objective.