With its gleaming reflective surfaces and sleek, low-slung form, Emergency Medical Service Station 50 in Queens, New York, cuts a powerful figure within the surrounding enclave of modest single-family houses. Unlike the city’s other stations— utilitarian in nature and not notable for intrepid design—EMS 50 is in a class of its own. Planned over 10 years ago by New York’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC), the 14,000-square-foot facility was designed to house not just the standard team of emergency medical technicians and paramedics but also EMS’s district office. Thanks to this dual purpose, and a generous $22 million budget, EMS 50 would be the borough’s largest station and a showpiece of the DDC’s Design and Construction Excellence 2.0 program.
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Aiming to upgrade the quality of major municipal capital projects, the Design and Construction Excellence program preselects a group of firms every three years, inviting them to submit qualifications and mini-proposals for public building and infrastructure projects. According to the DDC’s chief architect, Margaret Castillo, the department often includes firms with no prior municipal experience, which can bring fresh perspectives to city projects. The year that the EMS 50 project was ready to launch, one such firm was Dean/Wolf Architects —a New York practice doing primarily high-end residential work. “The scale and complexity of the project was really exciting,” remembers partner in charge and project director Kathryn Dean. “And the site had topography, which is unusual in an urban situation.” The firm won the commission in 2005, and, though the project was put on hold during the financial crisis, by the summer of 2016 the station was up and running.
The sloping site in the residential Jamaica neighborhood presented a slew of challenges. The team’s design had to relate not just to the woodframe houses, but also to a nearby high school and a large, decrepit hospital. “You had things face-to-face that didn’t belong together,” says Dean. “There was an opportunity for us to heal that.” The team also learned that the site was contaminated and required abatement. On top of all this, two underground utility tunnels—one active and serving the adjacent hospital, the other asbestos-laden and abandoned—run beneath the lot, restricting the buildable area. “It had every problem in the world,” says Dean.
In order to reconcile the different scales of neighboring buildings, while working around the utility tunnels, says Dean, “we had the idea to create a sort of dam: a building that was long in plan, like the hospital, but small in section, like the houses.” The architects stacked and offset two bar-shaped volumes on top of each other and slightly pitched their shed roofs toward each other, riffing on the slope of the adjacent street and the roofs of the nearby houses. “I think of it as reversing the entropy of the site,” says Dean of the building.
The station’s epicenter is the garage—a space bustling with workers restocking ambulances and hosing down gear. The “apparatus floor” (as it’s called in EMS-speak) anchors the northwest corner of the 165-foot-long building and has space for 10 vehicles. Around its perimeter are storage rooms, as well as a windowed workspace for the EMS staff on duty. “The officers are able to see all the comings and goings,” says division chief Christine Mazzola, who runs the borough’s EMS operations, “and have a bird’s-eye view on the narcotics,” stored in a cabinet just outside the office. Locker rooms and bathrooms on the first floor are dedicated to station staff, who also have access to an upper-story kitchen and lounge on the garage side of the building. The second floor’s northeast side, containing the offices of the Queens district staff, forms a 30-foot cantilever that serves as a canopy over the driveway leading to parking at the back. White-painted trusses, visible through the glazing from outside, zigzag through the interior.
To elevate the building type while still meeting the department’s functional requirements, Dean/Wolf brought the same occupantfocused approach to EMS 50 that it brings to its private residential projects. “We try to understand the client’s identity and form the design around that,” says Dean. “Here, we took our cues from the ambulances.” In the entry hall, standard fluorescent tubes are oriented vertically and tinted red, recalling streaks of light made by emergency vehicles as they race down the street. And throughout the building, FDNY red (“They have a particular hue, so we had everything custom matched,” explains Dean) is used to accent the concrete block walls, hallway flooring, and the large garage doors.
The building’s double-bar form echoes through many aspects of the station’s detailing. “We used the basic geometry of the building to create form liners for all the concrete,” says Dean. Cast-in-place concrete walls, found on both the interior and exterior, bear a repeating pattern of diagonal and horizontal lines. This same motif is laser-cut into the main stair’s metal risers and the elevator ceiling, as well as replicated as a frit on the upper volume’s glazing. Four different versions of the frit vary in density, providing more sun-shading at the building’s top without compromising transparency. “At night, when the building glows, it’s a beacon for the neighborhood,” says Dean.
“Dean/Wolf may have been new to this typology, but they were able to understand the needs of the project and this part of New York,” says Castillo. As their first public commission, EMS 50 appears to have been the start of something new for the firm, which is now working with the city on a new library in the Bronx.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Kathryn Dean, Partner in Charge / Project Director;
New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC)
Fire Department of New York (FDNY)
Hage Engineering (structural);
Quennell Rothschild & Partners (landscape architect);
Calcedo Construction Corporation
The LiRo Group
Special Inspections: HAKS Engineers
Paul Warchol Photography, (917) 783-5974, Credits: © Paul Warchol
Architectural Reinforced Concrete with Steel Truss Superstructure
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: MoMetal Structures Inc.
Masonry: Spec Formliners
Metal panels: Alpolic, Mitsubishi Plastic Composites
Metal/glass curtain wall: Kawneer North America
Moisture barrier: WR Grace
Other cladding unique to this project: Aluminum Trims by Maloya Laser
Elastomeric: Carlisle Syntec Systems
Metal frame: Kawneer North America
Entrances: Kawneer North America
Metal doors: JC Ryan International, Inc.
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Saftifirst
Upswinging doors, other: Thompson Overhead Door Co, Inc.
Exit devices: Advantex
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Nu-Tech Furnishings
Paints and stains:
Floor and wall tile:
StoneSource (Porcelain Tile and Stone Thresholds)
Interface FLOR Tile
Interior ambient lighting:
Vehicle Exhaust: Nederman