The idea behind the Reedy Creek Improvement District Emergency Services Center was to make it look like an old-fashioned fire station that a child might have drawn with a box of crayons. This resulting witty design is the first Disney-sponsored project completed by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. "We saw it as an opportunity to use big-scale patterns that are traditional images, but exaggerated. It fits our philosophy about signs and big graphics," explains project architect Timothy Kearney.
The apparatus shed, where fire engines are housed, is clad in what appear to be oversized red bricks. One wall is dappled with dalmatian spots. A large and leaky fire hydrant sits out front; it's actually a fountain. In this building the medium and the message thoroughly intertwine and nothing is actually what it seems. The "bricks" and the dalmatian-dappled wall are porcelain panels. Adding to the surreal effect, there's no symmetry; everything is 16 inches off center. The contractor, initially unaware of the Venturi firm's pen-chant, as Kearney puts it, "of not putting anything in the middle," actually evened out one facade and had to rebuild it.
The building is really a 22,500-square-foot state-of-technology emergency services center. But Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wanted to signal a turn-of-the-century fire house in a small town, and needed to do so in a one-story structure located on a five-acre site. Disney's domain in Orlando sprawls over 30,000 acres that now include the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney MGM Studios, Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and more. Officially, it is under the auspices of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a self-governing entity established by an act of the Florida Legislature in 1967, when Walt Disney first conceived the Magic Kingdom.
The fire house occupies a prominent site on the road into the Magic Kingdom, so Venturi and Scott Brown were asked to design a building that would convey its place and use, serving as a signpost on the road – an assignment suited to the architect's typically wry transformation of the vernacular. The equipment shed is just that, a shed decorated with a batten-seam aluminum roof and huge glass overhead doors, and punctuated by yellow bollards and pink trim. The main building follows a curve, and its entrance is an arcade marked by blue and pink-painted steel columns. (The curve accommodates the wider turning radius of fire trucks.) The spots are a double-entendre, invoking Disney's animated film "101 Dalmatians" and the traditional fire station mascot. At Disney, scale is always manipulated and perspective forced for visual effect, and this building is no exception: some spots are the size of a dog. While the overall design is replete with tongue-in-cheek references to fire-station imagery, one longstanding symbol was omitted for insurance and safety reasons: there is no fire pole.