Miller Hull

Mercer Island Fire Station 92

Mercer Island, WA
A unanimous choice for the only Honor Award this year. All aspects of the building work well together - a beautiful project at all levels: conceptual clarity, clear planning, elegant detailing, and beautiful execution.
2016 Washington Civic Design Award, jury comment
Client Mercer Island Fire Station
Size 8,000 SF
Completion 2015


There is something inherently magnetic about fire stations. From the earliest ages, children shriek with glee when they’re invited by firefighters to climb into their fire trucks. Even adults secretly hope that they too will get the knowing wink from the firefighters to come on up and step into one of the rigs.

But the Mercer Island fire station FS92, built in 1962, didn’t have this same coveted quality. It had been updated incrementally yet inconsistently over the years, and seismic deficiencies left the building in danger of being severely damaged in an earthquake, potentially trapping emergency vehicles inside. Additionally, the station had a backlog of deferred maintenance, and looked like it had been abandoned years ago, bearing little redeeming street presence on a highly visible and heavily trafficked community thoroughfare.

In spite of the glaring need for a new station, political, financial, and community support was hard to come by. When the mayor of Mercer Island had a heart attack and was quickly saved by FS92 firefighters, the notion suddenly gained momentum ultimately resulting in the City Council and the local community supporting a new station at the south end of the island.

Given the connection and views to the public right of way and the adjacent park, there was real opportunity to connect to the community and once again, become the kind of fire station that excites and invites.

The design response concentrated the limited resources on the north facade maximizing views and connections towards the public street and park, while downplaying the connections to the less desirable neighbors with more solid walls punctuated by carefully placed punched openings. Views out of the station are also focused on the park and take maximum advantage of the even, soft Pacific Northwest north light to maximize daylight into the station.

The station opens up to the north, providing the obvious direct means of egress for the emergency response vehicles, but more importantly, placing that equipment on display in the public realm, another means of connection to the surrounding community. The sidewalk in front of the station is well travelled – pedestrians of all ages going to the shopping center or the transit stop, young families out on bikes, or parents pushing strollers. This is what creates such an opportunity for street engagement. However, this traffic created a problem when people were in the apron during an emergency response alarm sounding — an area commonly referred to as the “dash zone.” In-sidewalk LED lighting fixtures activated by the station alarm now alerts approaching pedestrians that emergency vehicles will be exiting the station and to wait until all is clear again before crossing.

Furthering the station’s dialogue with passers-by, the design team worked with the Mercer Island Arts Council and the selected artist to create a piece of artwork at the intersection of the pedestrian sidewalk along SE 68th Street and the main pedestrian entry to the station. This location also connected the new art piece with the existing ‘Mythical Bird’ carved wood sculpture located across the street in Pioneer Park.

Art pieces are also represented in the totems marking the public entry walk from SE 68th St. Created with column sections salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, these pieces were obtained by an artist who arranged for them to be trucked across the country, making stops at various fire stations along the way. These mangled and charred remains of that day serve as a constant reminder of those who serve our communities so bravely and selflessly every day, 24/7/365.

We sometimes need stories like the Mayor’s to remind us that public safety touches all of our lives. Whether it’s those serving in the justice system, or in our local police and fire departments, we rely on these individuals to be there when we need them, and tend to forget about them until we do. One of this project’s biggest goals was to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of this fire station, and now, it has become an active participant in the community it serves — an engaging, welcoming, and positive symbol of tax dollars well-spent.