Monday, December 1, 2008


The above photo was taken Friday November 14, 2008 the morning after the Tea Fire in Santa Barbara, California. The photo shows an undamaged home that is surrounded by burned landscape and burned homes. This fire survivor is a home we designed and we call it the “Riviera Residence.”

Click here to view this project on our website:

I took the photo from below the home at the end of my street where I live with my family. We were evacuated the night before and early Friday morning I managed to get back to my home (which was untouched by the fire) and was anxious to see if the Riviera Residence survived. I knew it was surrounded by fire and burned homes and was quite thrilled to see it made it through the fire without any significant damage. We designed the home knowing that someday it had a very high chance of being in the path of a wildfire. The home was designed on the foundations of a home that was re-built after the Sycamore Canyon fire in the late 70’s. We knew as we designed the home that despite the relatively recent wildfire at this location there was still a very high probability of another fire raging through the site (though we never would have guessed how soon after finishing the home…less than 2 years). We had already had some experience with re-building homes after wildfires, and as an architect I have had the sobering duty and honor of working with families who have lost homes in California wild fires. Without asking for it, we have had real world education on fire resistant home design and the re-building process. The Riviera Residence is the first home that we have designed that has had a very real test of its fire resistance. In addition to the fire resistant design elements of this contemporary home design, the bulk of the credit for saving the home goes to Geoff Moore and Genie Gable our courageous and well prepared clients and homeowners. They had an evacuation plan and checklist that they calmly executed as the fire raced down Sycamore Canyon. After Genie drove away with all their essential belongings, Geoff stayed behind and started the active fire resistant devices installed to douse the house in water. He sprayed the home with their 100 feet of fire hose line until a wall of 50 ft. flames came over the home next door. At that point he left and the home was on its own. He came back the next morning to find his home intact.

I believe that a combination of all the active and in-active fire resistant features helped raise the odds that the home could survive. After all, with something as powerful and unpredictable as a wildfire the best you can hope to do is to tilt the odds in your favor. Unfortunately there is no single solution to fire resistant home design. I think it is best to combine active and in-active elements to have the best results.

If you are interested in seeing an online video of Genie, Geoff, and I discuss the fire, click on the link below. Our interview begins about half way through the video.

... Robin Donaldson, AIA

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