Fire Drill Houses
I have been photographing Fire Drill Houses for a few years. I remember the first time I ever encountered one of these structures. It was in my early twenties when I first moved to the UK since we did not have them in my native country (back then, we do now). I felt an instant sense of wonder and fascination by its form and apparent lack of utility. I asked some of my British friends about them but I did not get the answers I was expecting. Most of the people I asked have never seen them. No matter how much I explained what they looked like, they could not recall having ever seen one. I could not believe they could be invisible; after all, they are very big, tall and prominent structures. How could they be unseen? The second group was formed by people who had seen them but did not know what they were. A very small minority knew they were Fire Drill Towers, or places where firefighters do rescue practice.
The first point I would like to make is the different levels of visibility and comprehension these constructions had for different people. The second point, and the most important is what these places mean or why do I photograph them? First of all, what I find incredibly interesting about these places is related not to what is seen but to what is hidden or invisible. Firstly, they are generally known as Fire Drill Towers but I decided to call the project Fire Drill Houses because this is precisely what I find interesting, that they are simplified representations of houses. A staircase, a set of balconies in each level, and not much more. Very useful for firefighters to practice how to access a highrise flat during a fire but useless for human habitation since they are built lacking any rooms, water supply, toilets, etc. All the things that make a house a habitable place to dwell.
I am not suggesting these places are invisible because they cannot be inhabited, quoting Lefebvre “…the city is made of uninhabited and even uninhabitable spaces: public buildings, monuments, squares, streets, large or small voids. It is so true that ‘habitat’ does not make up the city and cannot be defined by this isolated function” Lefebvre (112). What I am suggesting is that these houses have been stripped of any features that are not related to the functions they were built for (fire practice). Those who can gather meaning and relate to this building (fig.1) are few, a firefighter, an architect.
These places come short or maybe surpass the expectations of what a house should look like for most people and so, we ignore them or simply do not see them.