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Shah Kawasaki Takes on a Field Trip to Palo Alto Fire Station 3

In mid-March, the staff of Shah Kawasaki went on a field trip to the recently completed Palo Alto Fire Station 3, just before the firefighters moved in (and before the shelter-in-place order took effect). “When one of our buildings is completed, we arrange a field trip to celebrate what the design team has done,” says Alan Kawasaki, principal.

For Olivia Asuncion, the trip was particularly poignant. “This is my first completed ground-up building as an architect,” she says. “I’ve been working on the project since I started with the firm in 2015. After drawing the lines and picking the colors, to have a tangible product to show my colleagues was exciting.”

Given the building’s prominent location on the corner of Rinconada Park, the exterior design evolved through extensive discussion with the city and the city’s design review board. It features terra cotta panels and dark grey zinc panels to relate to nearby civic buildings. “The contractors who installed the panels did a great job of making sure that everything had clean lines,” Asuncion says. “It looks exactly how I imagined it was going to be. It was a proud moment for me.”

Chenglong Tsai, project architect for the fire station, was pleased that his colleagues liked the zinc and terra cotta look. “They wanted to know how we put it together. I didn’t want to have a field of terra cotta, so we panelized it, dividing the terra cotta into sections.” Tsai also appreciated showing everyone the interiors of the dormitory and kitchen area. “We tried to make it look like a higher-end residence, with a really nice wood ceiling, and minimalistic color and details, while taking into account the need for durability.”

Diego Gonzalez, who had only joined the firm a week before the trip, says he appreciated the minimalistic, clean look of the fire station. “Sometimes people see these types of buildings as just a pile of boxes, but it’s very intricate to work out how these boxes come together and get the detailing right,” he says.

Gonzalez says he also had the chance to get to know his new coworkers better. “The firm outing is a great idea,” he says. “It lets us ask questions, find out how the designers achieved certain aspects, and how we might apply a particular kind of detail in a future project. You can interact with anybody in the office and start a conversation. We had lunch together. And we took turns going down the fire pole. It was fun and memorable for sure.”