This project appeared in the May 2020 issue of ARCHITECT.
Early in the process of designing a new home for Brooklyn’s Rescue Company 2, one of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY)’s six elite emergency response teams, Jeanne Gang, FAIA, and her office came to a surprising realization: The urban rescue workers they were dealing with knew almost as much about architecture as they did. “They have to go into all sorts of buildings, often without light,” says Gang, whose Chicago-based firm won a competition to design the facility in 2015. “They have this mental picture of all these different styles in their head.” That intimate relationship between client and design informed almost every aspect of the building, which was commissioned as part of New York’s Project Excellence program and opened in 2019.
The architects asked themselves: How do you build a better firehouse? Gang and her team had done extensive research into, and designed, civic buildings, but they had never designed a firehouse before. They began the design process with lengthy interviews with the firefighters themselves—the architects even went out on an emergency call. “They were so anxious to let us know what they do,” Gang says.
The firefighters’ top priority for a new facility was that it allow them to conduct training. The city’s rescue companies respond to a wide range of emergencies, from burning buildings to overturned boats, and each crewmember has to master a range of skills, from scuba diving to climbing down the side of a building. The company’s previous firehouse was cramped, antiquated, and the firefighters had to practice where they could—either traveling to northern Manhattan to the city’s main training site, or improvising closer to home with empty shipping containers.
Because the new building’s usable floor area was limited to just over 20,000 square feet, barely enough space for the crew and its equipment, Studio Gang had to get creative to integrate training facilities as well. And so the firm designed two firehouses in one. The two-story structure does all the work of a standard firehouse. It can hold up to four apparatuses (or, to lay folk, trucks) and house five firefighters and an officer—there’s a kitchen and even a pair of classic brass fire poles. But the building is also a Swiss Army knife of training tools.
Practically every corner plays double duty. A two-story central atrium brings fresh air and natural light into the truck bay, but its walls are fitted with various window shapes so firefighters can practice rappelling. A trench in the floor opens to simulate a construction-site collapse. Doors at both front and back make it easy to clear out the garage for training drills.Even the exterior walls, made from precast concrete panels, have tie-offs along their parapets to give the 32-member crew opportunities to develop rope skills. “This little toolbox
is about taking an ordinary building and creating opportunities with it,” Gang says.
In addition to making the facility doubly useful, Studio Gang made it sustainable—a key mandate of the city’s design excellence program. The firehouse sports a green roof, a solar hot-water system, and a geothermal HVAC system. Rainwater is collected in reservoirs for later use; what isn’t collected flows into the ground through permeable concrete surrounding the structure.
Gang may describe the building as a tool, but she also wanted to make sure it was a home. The kitchen and an attached lounge provide communal recreation space, but they are located next to the garage in case the firefighters get a call during a meal. Company and FDNY memorabilia adorns the walls, and just inside the front door is a memorial that recognizes the many fellow Brooklyn firefighters who died responding to the Sept. 11 attacks.
She also wanted to make sure that it was a part of its community. Firehouses are typically a neighborhood anchor, and Rescue 2 is no different: Located in Brownsville, a lower-income area in central Brooklyn, it sits on a former brownfield site, next to a massive new affordable housing complex. The concrete exterior is punctuated by bright-red terra cotta “baguettes,” which surround and accent windows. There’s even a street-level bench built into the wall, inviting passersby to engage with the building. “It was important to keep it functional, but to give it a civic presence at the same time,” Gang says.
Project: FDNY Rescue Company 2, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Client: FDNY; New York City Department of Design and Construction
Architect: Studio Gang, Chicago and New York . Jeanne Gang, FAIA (founding principal, partner); Weston Walker, AIA (design principal, partner); William Emmick, AIA (principal of design management)
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
MEP/FP Engineer/Façade Consultant: ADS Engineers
Civil Engineer: Langan
Construction Manager: The LiRo Group
General Contractor: ZHL Group
Landscape Architect: SCAPE
Lighting Designer: Domingo Gonzalez Associates
Wayfinding: Once-Future Office
Geothermal Consultant: P.W. Grosser Consulting
Cost Estimator: Toscano Clements Taylor
Expeditor: KM Associates of New York
Size: 20,000 square feet
Cost: $32 million