Galveston, Texas


Don't let the miles of seaside kitsch fool you: Galveston, Texas, is no ordinary beach town. The community, precariously perched on a 27-mile-long island in the hurricane-prone waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is in an ongoing fight for its survival.

Seven years after Hurricane Ike, Galveston remains in recovery mode. The third-costliest storm in U.S. history, after Katrina and Sandy, Ike spilled over a 17-foot-tall sea wall and swamped most of the island.

The results were catastrophic—80 percent of the houses were damaged, along with much of the city's waste-water management system and many emergency facilities like hospitals and fire stations. Armed with disaster-relief funding, Galveston has been slowly shoring up its infrastructure and buildings in preparation for the next storm.

Surrounded by uncertainty, the architects of a replacement fire station next to the Scholes International Airport have left nothing to chance. Located just four blocks from the Gulf, the new Galveston Fire Station #4, designed by HDR, is a rock-solid, two-story, 14,000-square-foot bunker with the look of an unpretentious yet polished beach house.

The station's vulnerable location in a high-risk flood zone but also adjoining an airport limited the architects' design choices. Living quarters and a critical operations center were elevated above flood levels but not too high to interfere with the adjacent airport's stringent height requirements.

The new building has a rectilinear concrete-frame structure, elevated about 2 feet above grade, and sits on 80 piles that descend 40 feet into the sandy soil. In keeping with Galveston's beach-town lifestyle, the design is simple, comfortable, and casual. On the first floor, the architects created a fairly spartan garage for the fire trucks and firefighting equipment, using minimal finishes and enclosing the open space with a translucent acrylic skin.

The second story, elevated 25 feet above sea level, is clad in white panels interrupted by long recessed terraces. At the core of the space are functionally designed sleeping quarters that share a living and dining area with an observation deck worthy of a luxury vacation house. “For the firemen, this is their home as well as their place of work—they're here for long periods of time,” says Jim Henry, the southern regional design director at HDR.

The sleeping units, shared by three people who rotate in eight-hour shifts, each have a stowaway bed and shower. However, they are purposefully narrow and compact—and television-free—to encourage the firemen to socialize in the bright and airy living and dining area organized around the lime-green kitchen.

On a quiet day, the firemen (currently there are no women) can sit on beach chairs and hang out on the partially enclosed balconies where floors, walls, and ceilings are ipe wood. “In addition to all the business, I wanted it to have all the relaxation of a beach house—a place where the firemen can come out, chill, and take in the scenery,” Henry says, referring to the panoramic views of the Gulf, the airport, and residential developments.

The firehouse's bold graphics and striking color palette (not red but neon green) draw from the mellow and casual ambience of the shore community. Nearby, Galveston's South Texas resort-style waterfront is dotted with Tiki-style fish restaurants and bars and culminates with a 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel on Pleasure Pier, whose LED lights blink into the night.

While the look of the building is simple and nonchalant, it's just for show. Fire Station #4 can readily switch into crisis mode to withstand a major hurricane, with wind speeds of 125 mph and a 20-foot storm surge. Poured-in-place concrete shear walls, which bookend the building, help. During a hurricane, fire trucks will be moved farther inland, and the doors may be opened to allow flooding of the ground floor.

Remarkably, the city was able to get wind and storm insurance for the second level, where all of the key operational equipment is located. “Probably, in a million years' time, an archeologist will wonder what this building was used for, because it will still be here,” says Steve Ratcliffe, an engineer at HDR. With a construction cost of $3.8 million, the fire station was a small project for HDR, a large, full-service firm. “People ask, 'Why would you do a fire station?' ” says Henry, “But resilience is a hot topic, and the lessons learned here apply at every scale.”


Formal name of building:
City of Galveston Fire Station #4

Galveston, Texas, USA

Completion Date:
February 2013

Gross square footage:
14,000 SF

Total construction cost:

City of Galveston

Texas Department of Rural Affairs

HDR, Inc. (Headquarters)
8404 Indian Hills Drive
Omaha, NE 68114
T: 402.399.1000
F: 402.548.5015

Dallas office (Jim Henry):
17111 Preston Road
Suite 150
Dallas, TX 75248
T: 972.960.4055
F: 972.960.4471

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Architect:
HDR, Inc.
James (Jim) Henry, AIA, EDAC, Associate Vice President, Design Director
Bryan Sumruld, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate
Kevin Augustyn, Associate AIA
Michael Alread, PM 
Thomas J. Trenolone, AIA
Kevin Ditto
Stephen Ratcliffe
Halden Tally

Architect of record:
English + Associates Architects Inc.
1919 Decatur
Houston, Texas 77007

Kathleen English, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Managing Principal
Pete Eichenlaub, AIA Project Architect
Richard Rodriguez, Associate, LEED AP

Interior designer:
HDR, Inc.
Karen Hoffmann NCIDQ, LEED ID+C, AAHID, EDAC Senior Interior Designer

Structural Engineering:
Haynes Whaley Associates Inc.
3700 West Sam Houston Parkway South
Suite 100
Houston, Texas 77042

Civil: HDR, Inc.
Electrical: HDR, Inc.
Mechanical: HDR, Inc.

Landscape: HDR, Inc.
Robert Fiester, RLA, ASLA
Lighting: HDR,Inc.
General contractor: Crain Group

Andrew Pogue


14,000 square feet

Construction Cost:

$3.8 million



Structural system
Reinforced concrete and post tension concrete.

Exterior cladding
Metal Panels: Dri Design, Wade Architectural Systems, Bill Wade, 281-852-7900
Metal/glass curtain wall: Evonik Cryo Canada, Inc., Pattie Berrera, 888.233.4527
Cast in Place Concrete: Concrete/AGE Construction, Clint Bunn
Wood: Ipe siding and decking by Advantage Lumber, Johnathan Santiago,, 877.232.3915
Moisture barrier: Cold Applied Waterproofing- Henry Thru Wall Flashing; Tyvek Commercial Building Wrap

Built-up roofing: Johns Manville Three-Ply Heat-Welded Modified Bitumen Mineral Surfaced Roofing System. 800.922.5922

Metal frame: Storefront Aluminum System, Frameworks Type 2, Action Gypsum Supply 713.896.4002

Glass: Admiral Glass Co., 281.953.3300

Hanger doors: Wilson Doors, Inc.
Metal doors: Hollow Metal Doors -Action Gypsum Supply 713.896.4002
Wood doors: Flush Wood Doors - OSHKOSH Door Company 920.233.6161
Sliding doors: NanaWall Systems, Architectural Sales, Inc, Larry Vernier, 281-362-0500

Locksets: Schlage L-Series
Closers: Norton Door Closer 8000 Series, Norton, 800.438.1951
Security devices: AdamsRite Manufacturing, MS1850S Deadbolt, 800.872.3267

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong ULTIMA Tegular
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Ameritek Design Inc, 281.442.7767
Paints and stains: Sherwin-Williams, Chaz Kosmack 832.642.0587
Plastic laminate: FORMICA Plastic Laminate
Special surfacing: Truck Bays - High Performance Coating - Sherwin Williams ArmorSeal Epoxy
Floor and wall tile: KITCHEN: Interstyle, contact name, 604.421.7229
Resilient flooring: Mannington Brushworks
Carpet: BEDROOMS: Mannington Elemental Neutrals 8213 Nitrogen

Interior ambient lighting: Pace Illumination, contact name, 708.499.1700

Elevators/Escalators: Schindler Elevator Corporation, Steve Burke, 713.576.2306

Elkay Drinking Fountains, Elkay USA

Big Ass Fan Company