2022 James Templeton Kelley Prize: Isaac Henry Pollan’s “This Is Not A Firehouse”

Six black and white images of wood architectural models; three exterior shots with sloped roofs and two interior shots showing details and staircase

by Isaac Henry Pollan (MArch I ’22) — Recipient of the James Templeton Kelley Prize, Master in Architecture I.

For more than a century, state and federal governments have fought tirelessly to extinguish wildfires in the western United States. Though many ecosystems in this region rely on fire, we have historically considered fire suppression to be synonymous with virtuous preservation.

Prior to colonialist intervention, many Indigenous groups deliberately burned millions of acres yearly to facilitate healthy forests; naturally occurring fires would also be allowed to burn themselves out. In fact, fire suppression has been extremely damaging to our forests. Without wildfire, invasive species have flourished and highly flammable forest litter has accumulated to dangerous levels.

Architecture has actively perpetuated the notion that all fire is bad fire. Grand urban firehouses have valorized the firefighting tradition while rural outposts signify the expansive reach of governing bodies over great swaths of land. Even today, many Americans fail to distinguish any difference between urban conflagrations and naturally occurring forest fires, and the fire station acts as a primary contributor to this failed distinction.

As a changing climate has brought on record heat and drought, it is more imperative than ever that we adjust our attitude toward fire on the land. This thesis proposes a new set of rural stations that prioritize a restorative attitude toward fire ecology and unsettle preconceptions of the iconic firehouse. These humble stations find new character through various amplifications of a ubiquitous gabled shed while incorporating a combination of fire-resistant materials.