Design vs. Fuctionality

By: Khris Kirk

During the recent decades, architects have been trying to convey their ideas and concepts within the structures they are designing. Some architects take a subtle approach while others take a more drastic approach. When an architect take the more drastic approach, the next question to be answered is how functional is the structure. A prime example of an architect’s design not being very functional towards the program space is Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station.
            In 1981, there was a tragic fire that destroyed parts of the Vitra design campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The owners of the campus decide to redesign the campus and bring in well-known architects to design the different buildings across the campus. Among these buildings was the Vitra Fire Station. The company sought out an architect to build a fire station to prevent any reoccurrences of the devastating fire in 1981. This was Zaha Hadid’s first project to be built (ARCHdaily).
            Hadid approached this project in a very conceptual way. Hadid states that the “initial study of the Vitra factory site informed our designs for the Vitra Fire Station – a building conceived as the key element within a linear landscaped zone, the artificial extension of linear patterns in adjacent fields and vineyards – designed as a connecting unit rather than an isolated object; defining rather than occupying space.” This statement can be seen in her preliminary paintings.
            As she progressed in the buildings concept, she finalized upon the idea that the building is “movement frozen”. “A vivid, lucid expression of the tensions necessary to remain ‘alert’, to explode into action as required. Walls appear to slide one across the other, main sliding doors form a ‘moving’ wall” (Zaha Hadid Architect). Hadid took the concept of how firefighters live their lives and transformed it into a building, which still keeping true to her preliminary paintings.
            Hadid’s concept for the building is great. However, as a functional space, it is not so great. The layout of the fire station is a great representation of her complex concept of movement. The interior space is a series of walls that are bent, tilted and broken to accommodate the program space is inserted between the long, narrow planes sliding past each other. Then, the second floor is slightly off balance from the first floor, which creates a sense of spatial instability (ARCHdaily). By having the floor plans of the fire station conveyed this way it does stay true to the concept of ‘movement frozen’, but makes the whole space difficult for a firefighter to use effectively.
            A firefighter is suppose to be able to get his gear immediately and then proceed to the fire truck in the fastest way possible; so he can get to the fire and save lives. By making the fire station so engulfed in the concept, it makes the space for a fireman impractical to use effectively. In fact, eventually the firemen could not handle the living space and functionality of the building that they left the facilities. When the people of the program cannot use the space in the best functional way and end up leaving because of that reason, shows how poorly the building was designed. It is great for an architect to have a great concept that he wants to convey in the building. However, there is a point when functionality over-rules the concept, and Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station is the perfect example of how a concept was taken too far away from the functionality of the program space. Therefore, architects should try and create a concept to use for the foundation of their idea for a building, but should keep in mind how it will functional work for the program space they are designing.   

Zaha Hadid Architects, Fire Station
ARCHdaily, Vitra Fire Station
ARTchitectural, Zaha Hadid, Vitra Fire Station

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