Obscure Design Typologies: Fire Training Towers

Fire training towers are the structures that the fire service use to practice firefighting. They mimic a range of architectural conditions that firefighters will most likely encounter: height, stairs, doors, rooms and so on resulting in constructions that almost look like buildings. We could think of them as heavily edited versions of architecture, familiar kinds of buildings reduced to a particular set of situations.

This brief image trawl seems to show up marked difference between British and American versions of fire training towers. The British versions tend to more vertical, often appearing like a fragment of a 50’s or 60’s housing block, even built from the same pallet of materials for extra authenticity. American versions instead present a hybridised model, where it seems a number of building types seem to have swallowed each other.

But if both types still look like other kinds of buildings there is one example that seems to invent its own architectural language from the programme and performance criteria of the brief. The Fire Environment Building is part of the Louisville Fire Department training facilities. Built in 1988, it is a strangely beautiful sculptural concrete thing, highly expressive yet obviously driven by utilitarian practicality.

Below is a selection of studies of fire training towers by Steven Price, one of my students at the AA this year.

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  1. Nina Shen-Poblete says:

    It’s extremely interesting that the American examples are so much more elaborate than the British ones. The former develop into a building language of its own, and seem to always situate in a low density area; the latter examples are much more compact, which almost qualify as some kind of minimalist architecture – circulation + structure, except that they possess a strangely contextual urban language.

    These fantastic images and drawings make me wonder, that to what extent their typologies are driven purely by utilitarian means, and their form organised by a specific set of fire-fighting situations. (Are American fire-fighting scenarios really so much more complex than the British?) With a reduced programme, the examples really bring forth a fascinating array of cultural contexts and ideologies embedded within their seemingly functional language, which make them such extra-ordinary objects to behold.

    (Do you have any sections?)

  2. David R. says:

    An intriguing collection. The design differences rise from differences in firefighting doctrines and training methods.

    Most of the UK examples seem to be collocated with a neighborhood fire station (and some of them might even be remnant hose-drying towers, not training towers). Proximity to residents limits the type of training that’s possible. There seem to be some more elaborate training towers in the UK, but we’re also seeing a sample of small towers on the location fire stations.

    The US towers are, mostly, in fire training centers, serving one or more jurisdictions. They’re bigger, and there’s more space around them. The towers support a wider range of activities, including more evolutions with smoke and flame.

  3. Grant Millard says:

    I’ve noticed the speciailized towers in Canada and the US reflect specific firefighting training needs in the area of the tower. A large sports auditorium, arts centre or something similar for which special firefighting needs have arisen. The tower looks like a chunk of the building with examples of the stairs, hallways, rooftops and such which would be encountered during a fire there.

    I assume the Louisville structure similarly reflects such specialized needs?

    Great seeing all these images together to compare. Those towers have caught my eye many times.

    Grant Millard
    Kitchener, Ontario

  4. Paul says:

    Article very interesting. I agree that US fire tower design is more effective than UK. What about French fire building???
    Residential architect london

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