California is no stranger to wildfires but some fire seasons are worse than the others. On December 5, 2017, the Thomas Fire, which affected Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, scorched 281,893 acres and destroyed 1,063 structures, making it one of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history.
The town of Ojai was also terribly affected: the fire devastated much of the 195-acre Upper Campus of the Ojai Valley School, including a science building, a library, the dining hall, and the girls’ dormitory, in just one night.
Today, roughly four years after the fire ravaged the campus, a brand new $16.5-million campus rebuild has risen on the ashes of the former one that succumbed to the flames, according to a press release by the Ojai Valley School. Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher, a father whose sons attend the school, is the name behind the build, which was designed to prevent such catastrophes from happening again.
Once the fire was put out, the school took immediate action to reconstruct what had perished, with administrators contacting Fisher to start the process as soon as possible. Fisher's firm, Frederick Fisher and Partners, was originally hired in 2015 to create a plan for the school's future expansion, which is why they had a firm grasp of the school's architecture as well as its academic and co-curricular activities. After the fire, their focus had to change from long-term planning to catastrophe recovery, Fast Company reports.
A science building, a library, the dining hall, and the girls’ dormitory are among the new structures totaling 37,000 square feet (3,437 square meters) in the $16.5 million renovated Upper Campus. The new design also includes a series of courtyards and plazas woven together gently to create an architectural refuge following the tragedy of the fire.
This year, California is experiencing another record-breaking wildfire season with continued drought conditions, and in this region of the country, full protection against wildfires is almost unattainable, putting nearly any property erected at risk. “You could say that about almost everything in California,” Fisher told Fast Company. “This is our landscape, so we have to learn to live with it in a sustainable way.”
To combat fire with architecture, Fischer went for simple forms that eliminate places that can cause embers to catch and didn't utilize any combustible materials on the exteriors. They also upgraded the school's fire access road, with one of its courtyards big enough to act as a staging area for firefighters if a fire approaches. Today, the new campus is built to be as fireproof as possible, and Fischer is confident that the design will help the school withstand future wildfires.