The Power (and Beauty) of a Firewall, Demonstrated.

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

What was the project and what were the steps that your team took in order to achieve the end-result the client wanted to see upon completion of it?


The Solana Beach Fire Station project we worked on between 2018 and 2019 with artist Betsy K. Schulz was a combination art and landscape. The City of Solana Beach, our client, wanted an artist to create a memorable art piece on the Solana Beach fire station site and it was also to be

turf-reduction project landscaped with plants appropriate to coastal Solana Beach.


This turned out to be a design-build project since the client contracted directly with the artist Betsy Schulz. The steps from the Request for Proposals (RFP) that was issued by the City required that teams submit a design proposal so that they could be evaluated by City Staff, the Public Arts Commission in the City of Solana Beach and the City Council. Our team was the winning proposal. The Firewall concept and how we planned to educated the public about wildfire and planting safety around your residence was strongly supported by the reviewers of the proposals. From there we implemented our concept which evolved as the design was refined throughout the process.

An early concept plan in the beginning stages of design-later refined.

What factors were considered in brainstorming a project like this one?


Southern California is at high risk for fire danger in the natural landscape. Being that this project would be installed at a Fire Station we were excited to tell the story of wildfire in the landscape with both the landscape planting and the art sculpture.


Our approach was to collaborate with the artist so that the landscape and the art would be in harmony and play out the same message. It was a pleasure to work with Betsy because she and our team at VDLA were able to define a concept where we could blend the landscape and the art message together to create a cohesive statement. Early on, we both hit on the idea that this would be called The Firewall. Betsy's sculpture would be filled with chunk glass, emulating a flame with the different colors of fire and VDLA's planting design would emulate wildfire in the landscape.

She and our team at VDLA were able to define a concept where we could blend the landscape and the art message together to create a cohesive statement.

We first wanted it to emulate the different zones of fire safety. For example when a house is up against a natural open space there are zones of defensible space. Around your structure you don’t’ want to have a lot of trees or shrubs that could catch fire and transfer the flames to your house. In this zone, you have more fire retardant plantings and as you move out closer to the natural landscape you want to thin out the native brush so that it doesn’t have a lot of fuel volume in it. This was the initial concept. Betsy really wanted the plants to have the colors of fire so that the blooms of the plants would have some red, orange, yellow and even blue.


Early concept to show planting design emulating flames along Lomas Santa Fe and the Fire Wall Sculpture.

We decided to use strictly native plants in one area of the project and made it a native demonstration garden. It had a lot of the native plants that you would see in the coastal sage scrub and in the natural plant community. The remaining area of the site near the sculpture was designed with drought tolerant plants also appropriate to the coastal environment but not strictly native. There were also adaptive plants that were suited to the coastal environment including a lot of succulent plants. Succulents have a lot of moisture inside their leaves so they are a fire retardant type of plant.


We decided to use strictly native plants in one area of the project and made it a native demonstration garden.

We also included prolific blooming plants in our design including: Blooming Lantana, Orange Lions Tail, Orange Aloes, Red Crown of Thorns and Blue Chalksticks. We designed those plants to where all the blooms would emulate the fire wall.

Leonotis Leonurus "Lions Tail" - Annie's Annuals and Perennials.

We arranged these colorful blooming plants as if the fire was racing up the slope of the fire station. It was a blend of a natural arrangement of plants but it also definitely has colored bands of red, orange yellow, blue and accented succulent plants. It turned out fantastic and is a really strong concept. The art and landscape really blend together and send the same message which was our original design intent.


We arranged those colorful blooming plants as if the fire was racing up the slope of this fire station planting area.


What were the challenges that made it difficult to achieve the final design of the project's original design intent?


The only real difficulty was the budget. The City didn’t have a large budget and building a sculpture is an expensive proposition, so there wasn’t as much money left over for planting as we would have hoped. But, as it turned out, O’Connel Landscape got involved and they gave a very fair (much lower) price to do the plantings to contribute to the local project. Additionally to get a little more funding, VDLA did a turf rebate through the Metropolitan Water District rebate program. This means that if you take out turf and put in a more drought tolerant landscape they will give you $1 for every square foot of turf that you remove. VDLA successfully got the rebate for the project and that money was able to be added into the budget to buy more plants!


If you take out turf and put in a more drought tolerant landscape they will give you $1 for every square foot of turf that you remove.


The Firewall sculpture at the Solana Beach Fire Station along Lomas Santa Fe.

Betsy also coordinated a lot of volunteer work with the Seaweeders Garden Club in Solana Beach. Betsy put a lot of extra effort in and her team really went above and beyond. It shows how much she cared about the project. VDLA, as a team, also took a particular interest in the project because our firm is located in Solana Beach and we are very happy to know that we have contributed in a meaningful way to the landscape and public right-of-way in the area in which we work.


We are very happy to know that we have contributed in a meaningful way...


The landscape and Firewall sculpture along Lomas Santa Fe.

What makes this project of special interest, or what makes it stand out against other projects that your team has worked on? What might you consider makes it special or unique?


Being an art and landscape architect collaboration made it a special project for us. It’s in a prominent location along Lomas Santa Fe which also made it really special for us. It’s a project that can be viewed in the daylight at different times throughout the day with the changing location of the sun. In the later part of the afternoon when the sun is low against the ocean the sun backlights the glass and the structure really comes alive. At night, because it is lit internally, it also really comes to life in a lively way. The City of Solana Beach is very committed to public art and it was nice to work on a project that enhances the community in this way. The City had a nice opening ceremony for it that you can read more about HERE.


At night, because it is lit internally, it also really comes to life in a lively way.

The Firewall lit up at night by the LED lights from within the structure-designed by artist Betsy Schulz.

What was the most interesting part of working on this project and why?


Working directly with Betsy was very interesting. We had previously worked on other projects in the County Library system, but her art was coordinated separately with the County and/or the project architect vs. a direct collaboration with VDLA directly. Working with her directly and watching her process was a great experience. She got feedback from our end and conversely she was able to give some options and feedback on our design. It was truly a collaborative process. Betsy is a very genuine, committed artist and this really made it a fun project to work on. Check out a video showing the process of the creation of the art sculpture HERE.