words Justin McGuirk
This house was made to be set on fire.
Standing in front of a fire station in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, the Brandübungshaus – or, literally, “burning practice house” – enables the firemen to train in realistic conditions.
The monolithic structure, designed by Hamburg practice Böge Lindner Architekten, is built of reinforced concrete and corten steel to withstand temperatures of up to 800ûC for 90 minutes at a time. In the areas where the fires are ignited the concrete is overlaid with corten plates because, as project architect Peter Focke explains, “the rapid cooling by extinguishing with water would destroy the concrete in a very short period of time”.
The Brandübungshaus is the architect’s take on a pitched-roofed single-family house, although its form has been stylised to give the understated glass-and-steel fire station something of an architectural symbol. As well as stripping away any details, the square floorplan has been twisted by 3û to create a trapezoid form.
The house contains a kitchen, bedroom, living room and basement, all with mock furniture made of stainless steel. The Brandübungshaus’ rooms are set on fire with liquid petroleum gas or just filled with theatre smoke – both processes can be controlled remotely. Sensors in the house monitor the conditions, and the corten blinds can be opened to let air in if necessary, but otherwise the house is designed to simulate a real-life inferno.