Fire pits have likely been around since the discovery of fire. By necessity, people gathered around an open fire to receive heat and comfort, even as a matter of life or death. Fire pits have been places for eating and sleeping, storytelling, music, and ritual. The warmth and mesmerizing flicker of fire is almost magical – and can inspire calm, nostalgia, and even reverence.
There is no doubt that most cultures have deep, historical affinities for outdoor fire pits. Even in our highly modernized culture, where the necessities of life are mostly matters of convenience, we have an undeniable attraction to and appreciation for an open fire. Whether it’s nostalgia for childhood campfire songs, memories of beach bonfires, or the simple animal attraction to light and heat, fire pits have a near-universal appeal in contemporary culture.
It is not surprising then that fire pits are finding their way into a growing number of backyards, patios, and outdoor rooms. Not only do they bring the incredible campfire aesthetic right to your home, but they also provide potentially stunning focal points for landscape design and extend the usable season for outdoor spaces. In clean, modern-designed exteriors, fire features offer an elemental counterpoint to the other refined, natural materials that are often used.
As a concept, a fire pit is fairly straightforward: simply find a way to contain and control an open fire. In practice though, it is not always this simple, especially if you live in an urban center. If you’re my age, you may remember a time when you could simply make a mound of garden waste in your backyard and light it on fire – even in the city! Well, due to some small technicalities like safety and air pollution, most municipalities don’t allow this practice anymore. Indeed, even chimineas, which have seen rapid growth in popularity in recent years are being banned in many cities. So where does this leave the modernist that is craving some urban tranquility in the form of an outdoor fire? Well, thankfully there are some options: enter the modern fire pit.
Modern, urban fire pits don’t burn wood, they use clean-burning fuel such as natural gas, propane, or even ethanol. In fact, modern fire pits eschew the concept of wood-burning entirely: where outdoor gas and propane firepits that one can purchase “off-the-shelf” are often supplied with the requisite fake logs, artifice is not in keeping with the modern aesthetic. Instead, the modern firepit may treat the fire more artistically, as matter that has to be balanced aesthetically with the other surfaces and objects used in the design. The types of materials that should be placed in and around the fire should be those that are naturally able to withstand the heat, like basalt or lava rock.
Modern fire pits reinvent the fire container. Where campfires used rings of rock or depressions in the sand, modern fire pits find their homes in geometric vessels made of concrete, cut stone, or steel, or they are set flush at grade. They are carefully cited within the context of the larger design to allow the different materials to complement each other and create a harmonious aesthetic. Modern fire pits are contemporary updates of the age-old campfire. They capture the warmth, comfort, and visceral appeal of outdoor fires while being clean-burning and aesthetically sophisticated. The design flexibility offered by materials like concrete and steel, combined with advanced burner technology allows for safe and seamless integration into modern outdoor rooms and designed spaces.