Week 26 (Fire Station #4)

Fire Station #4

  • Built: 1967
  • Design Architect: Robert Venturi (Venturi and Rauch) – Philadelphia, Pennyslvania
  • Assistant Design Architect: John Rauch (Venturi and Rauch) – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Project Manager: Gerod Clark (Venturi and Rauch) – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Columbus Fire Department asked architect Robert Venturi to design a simple functional building and as rare as it is in the world of architecture that was exactly what what he delivered. The building committee requested an ordinary building that was easy to maintain. Venturi’s design was a trapezoidal-shaped structure of cinderblock, red unglazed brick, white glazed brick and glass. The 37 foot hose drying tower located at front center provides a focal point to the otherwise low utilitarian building. The building is divided into 5 functional areas: garage/engine area, kitchen, lounge, sleeping area and the hose drying tower. The trapezoidal shape was largely a result of having to fit all necessary functions onto a small 200 by 125 ft site. As a result if you look at the floorplan, there are very few 90 degree corners in the building.

This was the first Columbus building other than a school to have it’s design fees paid by the Cummins Foundation Architectural program. Despite it unique design by a prominent architect it was one of the least expensive fire stations ever built in Columbus. The hose drying tower was nearly eliminated in a quest to keep the budget under $100,000 but Fire Chief Edgar Harris convinced the city that it was necessary. This one of the early designs in the career of Robert Venturi who went on to win the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in the architectural world. As a result this little fire station gets frequent visits by architects and architecture fans anxious to see the work of Robert Venturi. Firefighters stationed at the building are often bewildered and amused by those giving so much attention to this little building.

The floor plan lays out the equipment space on the right with storage and living quarters on the left and the hose-drying tower in the middle front. The living quarters section of the building is lower than the apparatus area so a parapet wall was utilized to balance the heights and enhance the scale.

At the time of construction the building was located along a busy highway with a number of planned but as yet undeveloped apartments and tract housing. Venturi wanted his simple building to stand out as the traffic sped past. He used his flat front facade to give his simple building a unique look. The white glazed brick covers most of the front facade with the red brick from the sides wrapping around the corners. The different brick colors change the proportions of the building making it appear larger than it actually is. The hose drying tower is semi-circular with it flat side lined up with the front facade. An accent is provided by the 2 black bricks placed in the tower wall at the point where the tower joins the roof.

Venturi called this “billboard architecture” or “second glance architecture”. The unique front facade and color scheme makes it spatially disorienting turning this “super-ordinary, super-economical building – here on a super-dull road” into an object that can’t be ignored. Venturi made the sides and rear of the building as simple as possible and treated the front as if it were a sign. It briefly attracts your attention as you speed past on the busy road. Venturi has described buildings like this as as “decorated sheds”, simple, even boring buildings that use signs or decorative elements to describe the function of the building. In this case the hose drying tower with the giant number on top, the white brick and the large flagpole in front convey a sense of civic importance to the building. It is meant to look like a fire station and not to convey any other image.

The building was completed in 1967 and opened on January 2, 1968

Front view                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Front view from across the street                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

View through the trees                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

View from the left                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

View from the right                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Venturi’s “signature” black bricks on the hose tower                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Parapet wall                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Rear view                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Hose drying tower          (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Side view of front wall                    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Floorplan of the building                    (graphic used pending permission, do not copy)

The Architects

Robert Venturi

  • Born June 25th, 1925 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey(1950)
  • American Academy of Rome – Rome, Italy (1956)

Robert Charles Venturi, Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1925. He was educated at Princeton and was the recipient of the Rome Prize in Architecture and was in residence at the American Academy of Rome. He has been a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and at Yale.

Early in his career he worked for both Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn. Venturi started his own firm in 1960 with partner William Short as Venturi and Short. After Short left the firm he formed a partnership with John Rauch in 1964 as Venturi and Rauch, becoming Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in 1967 when wife Denise Scott Brown joined the firm. John Rauch left the firm in 1989 and the firm became Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). The firm won the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) Firm of the Year Award in 1985. Over the years the firm has completed more than 400 projects.

He has lectured widely and has authored a number of very influential (and controversial) books including: “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” (1966) and “Learning from Las Vegas (1985). He is considered to be one of the the most influential architects of the twentieth century through his architecture as well as his writing and teachings. He became known for his writing and lectures attacking modernist minimalism which led to the post-modernist movement. His famous reaction to Mies van der Rohe’s famous modernist dictum “Less is More” was the mocking “Less is a Bore”. The culmination of his many awards was the Pritzker Prize in Architecture awarded in 1991.

Selected Robert Venturi Projects

1964: Vanna Venturi House – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1964: Guild House – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1967: Lieb House – Barnegat Light, New Jersey

1967: Fire Station #4 – Columbus, Indiana

1971: Trubek and Wislocki Houses – Nantucket, Massachusetts

1972: Brant House – Greenwich, Connecticut

1974: Dixwell Fire Station – New Haven, CT

1976: Allen Memorial Art Museum modern addition at Oberlin College – Oberlin, Ohio

1976: BASCO Showroom – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1976: Franklin Court – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1978: Best Products Catalog Showroom – Langhorne, Pennsylvania

1980: Freedom Plaza – Washington, D.C.

1981: Coxe-Hayden House and Studio – Block Island, Rhode Island

1983: Gordon Wu Hall at Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey

1983: House in New Castle, Delaware (1983)

1986: Lewis Thomas Laboratory at Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey

1990: House in East Hampton – Long Island, New York

1991: Seattle Art Museum – Seattle, Washington

1992: Children’s Museum – Houston, Texas

1994: Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library at Bard College – Annondale-on-Hudson, New York

1996: Trabant Student Center at the University of Delaware – Newark, Deleware

1996: Museum of Contemporary Art – San Diego, California

1997: Mielparque Nikko Kirifuri Resort – Nikko National Park, Japan

1998: Gonda (Goldschmied) Neurosciences and Genetics Research Center at UCLA – Los Angeles, California

1999: Provincial Capitol Building – Toulouse, France

2000: Frist Campus Center at Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey

2000: Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire

2000: Perelman Quadrangle at the University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2005: Dumbarton Oaks Library at Harvard University – Washington, D.C.

2005: Undergraduate Science Building, Life Sciences Institute and Palmer Commons complex at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Michigan

2005: Biomedical Biological Science Research Building at the University of Kentucky – Lexington, Kentucky

2005: Baker/Berry Library at Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire

2008: Episcopal Academy Chapel – Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

John Rauch

  • Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

John Rauch was born in Philadelphia and educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He became partners with Robert Venturi in 1964 as Venturi and Rauch becoming Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in 1967. Rauch left the firm in 1989.


Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates website:

Fire Station #4 on Venturi’s website:

“Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” (1966): Venturi’s influential and controversial book

“Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form” (1977): Another interesting and controversial Venturi book

Columbus Area Visitors Center

City of Columbus: official City of Columbus website

Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives

Columbus Indiana Architecture Digital Archives: A small portion of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives available online from the IUPUI digital library

3D Models of Columbus Architecture Executed in Google SketchUp:

The Republic Newspaper – Columbus, Indiana newspaper

Bartholomew County Public Library

Historic Columbus Website – David Sechrest’s tribute to Columbus History

Historic Columbus Message Board – a companion interactive forum to the David Sechrest historical website

Bartholomew County Historical Society

Columbus Area Arts Council

Click HERE for a Calendar of Upcoming Events in the Columbus Area.

Click HERE for information about Tours of Columbus Architecture and Design including the Miller House.

Ricky Berkey

Email me: rickyberkey@gmail.com

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