The Nation’s leadership looked to provide a new fire station that expresses their cultural values on sustainability.

The Onondaga Nation’s previous fire station was an aging prefab metal building in need of replacement. They chose to include a shared community hall for the whole Nation community, which was a service currently lacking within the Onondaga Nation, and to build it with labor from their own community.

The new firehouse is named Tsha’thoñswatha,’ meaning “where they put it out.” The aspirations of the Tsha’thoñswatha were: It will be built by the people of the Nation; It will walk gently on Mother Earth; It will be a vital part of the community and draw the community closer; It will be a showpiece and destination for others to see and use; and People will learn from the building and the experience of building it.



a materials ethic helped create a clear set of values to quickly judge decisions made during design and construction.

The intention was to align the goals of the Nation and the designers with a different approach to thinking and acting. The basic criteria for materials:

Is it natural? 

Is it local?

Is it recyclable/renewable? 

Is it made primarily from oil?


“We really wanted to incorporate the walking gently on Mother Earth in designing the heating and cooling systems,”

explains Ashley McGraw Principal Andrew Schuster. “This firehouse is equipped with an array of solar panels that can provide 100KW of power, ten wells are dug 400 feet to provide geothermal heating and cooling, radiant flooring in the truck bays warms them efficiently, and the use of natural light reduces the need to turn on the LED lighting. The building is designed to produce as much renewable energy as it uses on an annual basis. Our computer models show a net-zero energy building.”


Tsha’thoñswatha’ has some major improvements over the old firehouse.

The firehouse is now set back far enough so that the trucks can idle on a parking pad without stopping traffic. Tsha’thoñswatha’ has room for more as well as bigger trucks and the new drainage system allows them to be washed inside during the winter. There is space for turnout gear and a variety of ample storage space. Tsha’thoñswatha’ also provided a much needed office suite and a meeting room for their classes. Tsha’thoñswatha’ is equipped with a state of the art kitchen, a sheltered gathering area outside, and room for approximately 150 seated people.




Location: Onondaga Nation, Ny
Photos: John Griebsch Photography