A simple approach to sustainability

Belgian architect Philippe Samyn's attitude to sustainability is reminiscent of the maverick American designer Buckminster Fuller who believed that all architects should know the weight of their buildings. “Resources are scarce,” explains Samyn. “So the fewer materials you use, the better you preserve the planet.”

You get a feeling for what he means when you look at the facade of his fire station at Charleroi. It is made up of two main elements. At ground level, 48 glass overhead doors shelter 48 fire service vehicles. And the upper floors are clad in a thin skin of perforated, corrugated steel that rises two and a half meters above the roof terrace to provide the vegetable garden, sitting area and running track with welcome protection from the wind.

Arranged in an unbroken circle, the lightweight glass doors almost make it look asthough the building is floating. And when they slide open, the ground level elevation seems to disappear, allowing you to peer past the fire trucks into the solid core of the building. “We tried to make the simplest, least expensive, operational, sustainable door,” says Samyn. And the door's combination of slenderness and strength certainly brings a lightness to the building that expresses the sustainable intent of the overall design.

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