Elevating the Discourse: a passivhaus fire station

On the heels of our previous fire station posts, this one takes a slightly different approach. We’ll take a closer look at one of the more interesting projects that we’ve run across. The Berufsfeuerwache Heidelberg is the first fire station in Germany to meet the passivhaus standard.


The Berufsfeuerwache Heidelberg was the result of an open architectural competition held in 2002. The winning architect was Peter Kulka.


The fire station is situated in an interstitial zone between the downtown and periphery. The project was viewed as a catalyst for the area, which is significantly less dense than most of Heidelberg. In the aerial above, the site is the large trapezoidal greenspace just south of the rail lines. In the eastern corner of the site, a rain garden allows runoff to slowly percolate into the ground.


18 firefighters continually man this round-the-clock facility. Functions are separated by floor. Apparatus bay rings around a central maintenance shop on the ground floor. Bunks, changing rooms, training & exercise rooms, beanery and cafeteria are located on the first and second floors. The third floor consists of administrative office and control rooms. Colors demarcate the different functions throughout the station – blue: administration, yellow/green: bunks/lounge, etc. Interestingly, this station has several 2-story fireman’s poles, though Seattle balked at using them in fire station 37.


The building is dominated by two features: a 122’ hose tower as well as a wing which floats effortlessly above the site. Precast spun concrete columns are set in a ‘V’ configuration, lifting the administration offices off the apparatus bay roof while providing protected training spaces. Sections of the building are carved away allowing ample light and ventilation. The apparatus bay features 36 laminated, double-paned bi-folding doors. The building envelope is a rear-ventilated façade over mineral fiber insulation with a reinforced concrete superstructure. Thermostop isolating strips are used to thermally decouple the facade from the concrete structure. A charcoal powder-coated facade was selected after consideration of a red one was eliminated for being too predictable. This seems like a good move, as the fire engines stand out better against the dark metal panels.


 Utilizing innovative approaches to energy efficiency was a high priority for the city of Heidelberg. As the apparatus bay and maintenance shop can’t be airtight due to ventilation conflicts, only the ‘living’ areas of the fire station meet the passivhaus standard. The concrete walls consist of 30cm (12″) mineral insulation and has a U-value of 0.127 W/m²k (R-45). The roof, with a U-value of 0.096 W/m²k (R-59) consists of 40cm (16″) EPS insulation with extensive green roof above. A highly efficient HRV provides necessary ventilation and supply air is preheated (or pre-cooled in summer) with a ground-coupled heat exchanger. District heating (CHP) is utilized for domestic hot water.

The south face of the hose tower has 135 building-integrated monocrystalline photovoltaics, and the roof has an additional 148 monocrystalline PV panels capable of supplying nearly 50,000 kWh/yr. The city believes this is enough to power (14) 3-person households. As both installations cost €460,000 – each kW (65 total) roughly cost €7,100

Windows are triple-glazed, thermally broken and insulated aluminum storefront, manufactured by Wicona. The windows achieve a U-value of 0.80 W/m²K (R-7).

The fire station achieved an air tightness of n50=0.49 ACH, falling within the Passivhaus parameters. This is mainly due to the utilization of reinforced concrete for all structural elements.


According to the Passivhaus Institut, the total cost to meet passivhaus standards for this building were less than €200,000. Implementing these standards reduced the energy for space heating by 90% over a typical fire station. We’re really impressed that the architect was able to meet such a difficult standard while avoiding the typical squatty form. This fire station, while still compact, shows a frivolity and boldness with clean lines that leaves us in awe.

  • architect: Peter Kulka with Henryk Urbanietz
  • structural: ahw Ingenieure GmbH
  • mechanical: Graner und Partner Ingenieure
  • photos: Lukas Roth
  • completed: 2007
  • cost: €14,000,000 ($19,750,000)
  • GFA: 9,959 sm (107,200 sf)
  • cost/sf ≈ $185/sf
  • awards: Gute Bauten 2008 Baden-Württemberg, Anerkennung Deutscher Fassadenpreis 2009

Further reading:

Passivhaus databank entry
City of Heidelberg: Construction photos
GGH-Heidelberg project brochure (PDF, german)

One response to “Elevating the Discourse: a passivhaus fire station

  1. Great coverage on a significant structure. Very few blogs out there include info on plan drawings, pricing and energy U-values. This blog is quickly becoming an important resource on the internet.