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Anprobe Feuerwache 10 by Kathrin Böhm, Andreas Lang and Stefan Saffer

A modern fire station designed by professional architects in which the firemen don’t feel at home is rather like an elegant new suit that makes you feel uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit. One way to solve the problem is to keep altering the suit, trying it on again and again until it fits you and your requirements. That is precisely what Anprobe Feuerwache 10 (‘Trying on Feuerwache 10’) seeks to do with the new fire station in Messestadt, Feuerwache 10.
The users of the fire station approached kunstprojekte_riem with a request for art that would be conceived specially for their new building. A first response came in the summer of 2001, when Kathrin Böhm and Stefan Saffer included the firemen in their Wohnen mit Kunst (‘Living with Art’) activities, setting up the WmK Mobile for several days in the fire station. In extensive discussions the artists sought to discover the exact needs of the firemen and why they were dissatisfied with the building. It soon became obvious that the firemen were concerned with more than decoration. In 2002 Böhm, Saffer and their fellow artist Andreas Lang have used this initial experiment as a basis for Anprobe Feuerwache 10, a project that unites artistic practice, architecture and the everyday requirements of a workforce in an attempt to understand and provide solutions to the conflict between the aesthetic qualities of the building and the professional and human demands of those who use it.

Böhm, Lang and Saffer began by setting up a ‘fitting box’ in the communal room; details of the project were to be posted here as it progressed. This was followed by a meeting of representatives of all the parties involved: Wolfgang Schäuble of the city fire-fighting department; Reinhard Bauer, the architect; and firemen teams A, B and C. In the course of this exchange of views it became clear that the firemen objected to the bare grey concrete: they found its hardness and smoothness cold and uninviting. That is why they didn’t feel at home in the communal room. In this room and in those set aside for resting they needed to relax in preparation for a call that might come at any moment. They felt they had not been provided with an informal space that would promote social contact among them. The firemen’s view of the building’s exterior also did not agree entirely with the architect’s. Although it reflected the firefighters’ view of themselves as a modern, professional, well-equipped force, the black volcanic stone and the two towers did not suffice to make it instantly recognisable as a fire station, as they would have wished. At the end of the discussions it was agreed that all parties should develop joint proposals for changes to the building that took into account both the needs of the firemen and the artistic intentions of the architect. The artists then provided the firemen with a Polaroid camera, paper, drawing utensils and glue and encouraged them to give visible form to their demands and to their everyday experiences in the building. In a series of workshops the artists helped the firemen develop proposals in the form of sketches and models.
The next step was to find alterations to the building that would be acceptable both to the firefighters and to the architect. During this lively debate the artists acted primarily as mediators. In the end, the following measures were agreed: (1) Feuerwache 10’s carpentry workshop made a corner bench for the communal room; (2) the walls of the resting rooms were altered in accordance with the perceived need for warm-toned materials, more colour and greater intimacy (for example, by installing hanging facilities and surfaces for depositing belongings near the beds); (3) the building is now instantly recognisable as a fire station by decorating the entire height of its façade with scenes from the daily life of a firefighter.

Spring 2003