A photograph of the exterior of a firehouse in germany. its upper volume is clad in a metal grid, while the lower, made of exposed concrete, houses firetrucks
© BRIGIDA GONZÁLEZ

In Germany, a Cradle-to-Cradle Firehouse Proves the Power of Mass Timber

Wulf Architekten designed the timber and concrete components of the Straubenhardt firehouse to be disassembled and reuse.

Three years ago, the small town of Straubenhardt, Germany, declared itself the region’s first cradle-to-cradle (C2C) community, aligning the entire town with circular economy principles. For the building sector, that meant that all materials must remain raw, untreated, and easily recyclable. The program was put to the test with its first C2C pilot project, a new central fire station designed by Stuttgart’s Wulf Architekten.

A steep slope on the building site made it necessary to sink the fire station’s base 23 feet into the earth, which in turn required a structure of reinforced concrete. Even though carbon-intensive concrete was not the first choice of materials, the architects turned it into an advantage. Because the concrete was raw and free of any coatings, it is fully recyclable, and it made possible a wide hall to house vehicles, maintenance facilities, and technical areas. Above this base, the architects placed a second volume of almost identical size but made entirely of timber. While the concrete areas are designed for machines, the wooden structure is designed for people and contains social rooms for 230 firefighters, their offices, training facilities, and sleeping quarters.

interior of cement volume designed to house firefighting vehicles with a round skylight overhead
The untreated, V-shaped timber supports are so thick they resist fire, yet a wooden facade wasn’t allowed by building regulations, so the architects wrapped the upper volume in a perforated metal grid. Two atria bring light into the interior of the wooden volume and mezzanine below, creating a sense of lightness in attractive contrast to the solid base. © BRIGIDA GONZÁLEZ

In keeping with C2C principles, the fire station is built as simply and naturally as possible, and everything is designed to be reused or recycled. No adhesives, paints, plasters, or chemical treatments were applied, and timber elements were fastened with screws, not nailed or glued. Most significantly, all building technology remains visible so that it can be easily repaired or replaced when the time comes. 

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