Fire Training Center on Angeles Crest Highway
UCLA | AUD | Instr. John May

As the inhabited world becomes more complex, our culture more technologically adept, and as our need for space grows, new forms are created out of innovations that increasingly allow us to inhabit new territories. These forms come to characterize the new conflicts we face and represent our ability to confront and overcome them. While orthodox modern architecture has claimed to free architecture from the need to express this confrontation (allowing it to express other things), many subsequent developments within modernism came to express the systems that enabled it—those technological, structural and mechanical innovations that facilitate the inhabitation of ever larger and more complex built environments. Forms therefore mean something about the way that we inhabit the world to the extent that they legibly (though not literally) represent this conflict. Frequently, new forms first appear and take on meaning through the work of engineers. Highways, bridges, dams—these all have meaning insofar as they represent an enabling of a mode of inhabitation that is widely desired culturally. They are analogous to the lintel, the arch, the fortified wall, the frame, all of which are measured responses to cultural desires in the face of an opposition—these forms persevere as raw materials for architecture.

The fire training center on Angeles Crest Highway is understood to be occupying the outer limits of our ability to inhabit the environment. Its site cannot be approached conventionally—the topography is in constant flux due to landslides, seismic activity and unpredictable freeze-thaw cycles, and the site's surface is regularly subsumed in inferno. The project’s architecture therefore is based on a language of forms whose provenance is in confrontation with these types of forces: civil and military engineering. These forms serve the synchronous purposes of building on an otherwise unbuildable site and reflecting the nature of the conflicts that necessitate this type of program to exist, and to exist in such a place as it does. They are utilized in the service of architectural ambition, that is, the ambition to allow and enhance views of the landscape, the provision of outdoor space where the ground plane cannot be utilized, and the creation of a mode of circulation and programmatic organization that promotes unexpected meetings between firemen, their trainers, and the visiting public.