Considering the specific characteristics of the site, the architecture of the project is simple, contemporary, compact and functional (flow of people and vehicles) while offering an iconic and recognisable form, compatible with the firm tertiary character of the environment.
The location of the building, in the upper and flattest part of the ground, limits the excavation and backfill associated with the construction. The two existing driveways, the first used for emergencies and the second for personnel and visitor access, are positioned in order to limit the length of the roads. The hollow made by the south access creates the entrance to the building at ground level (pedestrians, bicycles and cars), as well as an area accessible to delivery vans. Access to the west, which is higher, establishes the first level of the building as the emergency level. This level is surrounded by an emergency ring road, allowing each truck to leave independently from the others by a sectional door assigned to it.
The true backbone of the project is the north-south axis, naturally indicated by the access to ground level. This is the main horizontal circulation, punctuated by all the vertical circulations, thus defining the building’s orientation.
The drill tower, situated across the emergency road at the junction of the north-south axis and the emergency vehicle access road, is visible from this axis. It is surrounded by a concrete exercise area to the north, allowing trucks to easily turn around the tower and to simulate fires. The site report suggests establishing the area for fire drill exercises to the north of the field, in order to avoid smoke drifting toward the neighbouring houses.
The round form of the plan issues directly from the flow of emergency vehicles. Indeed, two circulation driveways are planned: the first, internal, for return from emergencies and the other, external, for departures. The round form is an obvious means to avoid any crossing between the two flows and to ensure that no manoeuvre is performed both inside or outside the great hall. All functions are housed in this 90 m diameter and 5 level high cylinder. The compactness of this volume reduces external exposed surfaces and thus minimizes energy loss. Before putting renewable energy systems in place, it is essential to save energy at the source, reducing energy loss and maximising free gains from the architecture and its installation.
At the level of the west access, this area is occupied on the periphery by the main hall, harbouring the vehicles’ garage in addition to an internal lane. A separate compartment houses the ambulances at a constant temperature, while another compartment is occupied by a car-wash. There are no pillars between the circulation driveway and parking places, which prevents many potential accidents and provides flexibility in this annular space. However, no vehicle is to circulate in an emergency state within the building. In fact, each vehicle has its own door and leaves directly without endangering any of the fire fighters who are running towards their trucks. The main hall is lit by fourty-eight 6 m high translucent doors along the whole curved facade, creating soft and uniform lighting in addition to the skylight facing the back of the emergency area. This space is magnified by the “heroes’ square”, a space dedicated to the celebration or reverence of the fire fighters who have returned from the fire. This ample space also allows for the welcoming of groups of visitors, information sessions for the entire station, etc
The last level offers a restaurant with a panoramic view over Charleroi, as well as a floral and vegetable garden of about a hundred square metres on the roof. This vegetable garden and greenhouse can provide food directly to the kitchen. They are designed to be a part of the training provided by the hotel schools in the surrounding area, whose students could come and prepare the fire fighters’ meals and tend the garden. There is also an outdoor terrace next to the restaurant for a bit of sun exposure.
This level also has access to the seating levels for the sports hall and an outdoor running track circling the building while offering spectacular views of the region.
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