A Fire-Scape

Alumna Hanna Prinssen (Master in Landscape Architecture) graduated with A Fire-Scape

Fire was always an important part of the natural process in the forests of North America. The Native Americans played an important role in this by deliberately starting these fires. These controlled burns contributed to the openness of the landscape in order to be able to hunt and gather better. An ‘unspoiled’ wilderness arose, which was a result of occasional, controlled burns that created a mosaic of grasslands and forests in the whole of North America.

With the arrival of the English colonists in 1850 and the construction of houses, roads and tracks, fire was no longer desirable as part of these forests. As a result of decades of programmes of fire fighting and prevention, the ecosystems in these forests have changed drastically and dense tree stocks have arisen without diversity. This, in combination with climate change, is leading to extreme forest fires. Houses are being built in California in or in the vicinity of forests that are susceptible to fires. This means that it is threatening our lives and has literally become a hot topic in the news.

These programmes that are aimed at protecting the built environment against fire are therefore having the opposite effect to what was intended, but what if there was a different approach? Just like in the Netherlands, for example, where we are defending ourselves against the water by building dykes, sea defences and dunes. New ideas are now being tested to give space to the water. This leads to new landscapes and new forms of resilience. Therefore, instead of reinforcing lines of defence against fire, we may need to design using fire in a similar way to how we are dealing with the water problem.

Fire-Scape harks back to the modified firescape from the past and seeks a combination of knowledge of fire and the Dutch approach to water. By reintroducing a productive ‘firescape’ in which wood is produced, an economic driver and a modified mosaic landscape is created in which fire is part of the ecological process. Not only the forest structure will be tackled, but also the water, housing, recreation and the fire management layers. In this way, a comprehensive plan will arise that is designed to create space for fire, but which also guarantees the safety of residents.

The so-called ‘fire dyke’ has been designed to create safe residential areas. This is strategically located along the border of the mountain ridges. The 1- to 2-metre thick top layer is removed from the fire dyke, as a result of which the (granite) rock is exposed. This ensures that no flammable material can grow in this zone and the fires from the firescape are stopped naturally. In addition to this safety function, it is a beautiful element in the landscape where the contrast between safe and unsafe becomes visible and one can enjoy the tension and excitement of fire.

The aim of the project is a new outlook on fire as part of the landscape. Fires will become a more prominent part of the landscape in the future due to climate change. Landscape architects will play a prominent role in this change to the landscape by designing new resilient landscapes and preparing society for a life with fire.


Academy of Architecture Graduation Committee: ‘With her choice of forest fires as subject for her graduation project, Hanna is fearlessly dealing with this effect of climate change.  That is courageous, because not only are uncontrolled forest fires a serious phenomenon, it is also courageous because almost no serious design-based research has been conducted into this subject yet in the field of landscape architecture. This makes Hanna a pioneer.’

Hanneke Kijne, Head of Landscape Architecture, Academy of Architecture: ‘A very urgent theme, which is increasingly spreading all over the world, among other reasons due to climate change. With her graduation project, Hanna has made a major contribution to our discipline by researching this new theme in this detailed and comprehensive manner and demonstrating that a high-quality fire-resistant landscape can be created using her method and integral design.’

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