Designing for Fire


Nearly all lands and plant communities in the western United States are adapted to fire exposure, and for thousands of years indigenous peoples here have used fire intentionally to cultivate plant and human health symbiotically. The consequences of 150 years of fire suppression as a development practice are increasingly felt in catastrophic wildfires across these landscapes and the communities that inhabit them. New design models must be deployed for stewardship from the scale of structures to sites and regions.


This R+D project leverages Mithun’s integrated design practice to explore solutions at the wildland-urban interface with the goal to advance both site-based ecological land management practices and building technologies.

Using project-based inquiry, the team looked across the design process—from site planning to earthwork, building construction, planting and ongoing maintenance—to develop a toolkit with recommendations on best approaches for work within fire-prone communities. The team explored existing literature on fire adaptive environments provided by indigenous, scientific, academic and regional planning resources, and then collated this information through the lens of a designer. This information has been shared throughout the practice to inform project design and advance communities’ understanding of resilience and sustainability.

Looking Forward

This R+D effort reframes the narrative around wildfire. Fire is part of a natural and healthy cycle in the western U.S., and project teams should embrace this phenomena when approaching design. Given the magnitude of information available on this topic, the On Fire toolkit and research summary provide a streamlined roadmap for implementation of fire-resilient strategies on architectural and landscape design projects, enabling priority focus on aspects that will have the greatest impact. This inquiry focused predominantly on rural and suburban environments, and it would also be beneficial to examine the impact of wildfire on urban communities, which are greatly impacted by wildfires even hundreds of miles away.

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