The Modern Fire Station: Bold Designs, Clean Lines, & Civic Presence

Axis Architecture Blog Post

Axis believes in bold designs and clean lines. So when it comes to civic projects, we always consider civic presence—when a building adds character and compelling design to the surrounding streetscape. But for fire stations, it’s more than just glass walls and bright colors; it’s about making the buildings into iconic civic anchors. And it’s about making them efficient and functional for firefighters while supporting the culture of the fire department.

Axis has had the honor of designing fire stations for communities across Indiana, including Carmel, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, Monticello, New Albany, and Shelbyville. In fact, it’s common for us to be working on four to six fire stations simultaneously. Recently, we broke ground on Station No. 8 in Hammond. It will be the city’s first new fire station since 1979, and will replace a cramped and energy inefficient structure.

“We make the buildings as efficient as possible,” said Chris Hagan, one of our associate principals and in-house fire station expert. “Plus, they feel timeless. You could drive by a fire station 20 years from now and not know exactly when it was constructed. And they are all going to last a long time—years and years.”

Axis Architecture - Shelbyville Fire Station 2Axis Architecture - Wayne Township Fire Station 82

LED lighting is also a common feature in our fire stations, for which we create eye-catching elements. For example, Shelbyville’s Station No. 2 has an obelisk. And in downtown Indianapolis, Station No. 7—our most recently finished station—incorporates bright colors, varying textures of masonry and metal, and a scale that ties it to the surrounding buildings.

“[Station No. 7] has a great downtown presence,” said Chris. “It’s in a prominent location and fits into the fabric of the neighborhood.”

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Axis Architecture - Indy Fire Station 7

That’s one of our biggest challenges, really—making sure our fire station designs are the perfect balance of industrial and residential design. Not every fire station has a modern look, after all. For the City of Carmel, we designed a more traditional-looking station, one of red brick. But the interior? It’s sleek, clean, and contemporary—an environment the firefighters can thrive in.

We never go into a project with preconceptions, though. For each fire station, we broker the needs of the fire department alongside the financial constraints of the chief executive (usually the mayor of the city we’re working with). And we always sit down with the fire department to get the firefighters’ perspective. As their work is high-risk and intense, they want to make sure they receive the best possible station—a place that will serve and protect the community. So we sit with them, get to know them, and pick their brains about what they like, what they want, and what they think will work.

Three common topics? Efficiency, comfort, and a timeless design that will last at least 50 years. The ability to provide training and continuing education programs is a design trend, too. Most fire station clients are looking for a space where computer- or video-based continuing education programs can be held. We also take physical fitness and training into account and have tripled the size of some of the fitness rooms in the past couple of years.

Axis Architecture - Indy Fire Station 7

As for comfort? We’ve abandoned the idea of a bunk room and design “dorm scenarios” instead.

“It’s like a tiny hotel room,” Chris said. “We’ve pushed toward individual living arrangements with beds, lockers, and a bathroom. [Being a firefighter] is a tough job, and sleep is dear to them. These guys go out a couple of times a night and need to come back to a comfortable space.”

The efficiency of a fire station is as essential as the firefighters’ comfort. In case there is a run, the firefighters must be able to get to the engines as fast as possible, whether they are in the kitchen, on a treadmill, or taking a nap. So, when designing a station, we carefully map out each space, cut down on sprawl. In the case of Station No. 82—located in Wayne Township—the living space is located directly above the apparatus bays.

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Currently, Axis has several fire station projects underway, including the new station in Monticello. And because we work on multiple stations at any given time, we are always on top of the latest trends and regulations. While some of our stations are modern and others are more traditional, they have something in common: a sense of civic presence that will last for generations.