The anatomy of (wild)fire, a design quest?

The research seminar examines the anatomy of (wild)fires in the context of climatic disintegration and agricultural practices in managing debris accumulation in forested areas. In particular, the seminar addresses the ecology of fire—associated benefits, hazards, social agents, and corresponding intuitional frameworks—relative to design. While examining the fires' components as a phenomenon with increased incidence in today’s extended drought periods and abandonment of rural territories, the seminar explores design questions and possibilities: How does fire happen and how is catalyzed? Where does it occur? Which measures are in place for post-tragedy territories and community recovery? How can design anticipate and prevent? The seminar entails the examination of the cultural and anthropological domains of fire as well as case studies on fire management and mitigation in communities under perennial threats. These include regions where wildfire is an enduring and ever-growing occurrence, such as in the Mediterranean basin (Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece), Australia, California, Canada, and Chile. The year of 2017 witnessed unforeseen fire events with extreme magnitudes. The effects of such scales produced incalculable losses in human lives, environmental depletion, public health damages, and public expenditures. In the present times, where the increase of air temperatures and drier periods are expected to grow even more, the study of this phenomenon and its implications seems of strategic relevance for the design disciplines in their aim to build resilient communities in urban and rural territories.

The students will work in pairs, and each will research a particular territory/ community. This research follows a bi-weekly sequence: (1) wildfires' incidence, (2) landscape and built environment characteristics, (3) constituencies framework, (4) post-recovery strategies, and (5) design potentials for increased resiliency. There will be lectures by the instructor and/or guests associated with the subjects under scrutiny. The pairs of students will present a bi-weekly summary of their findings on the sequential listed topics. The final presentation will include the delivery of a booklet with the material gathered during the five chapters’ examination and a concluding presentation in an open workshop format directed by each pair of students.

This research seminar runs parallel with an Option Studio during the Fall semester, which is focused on a rural community of Portugal affected by the wildfires of 2017.