Archinect
Andrew Blumm

Andrew Blumm

Los Angeles, CA, US

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Sentinel - 2020 USC Architectural Guild Charrette 1st Place Entry

This 2020 USC Architectural Guild Charrette challenged students to design a fire-resilient visitor center in the Angeles National Forest. The building is meant to be a place where the public can learn about the ecology of the area, stay overnight and, in case of emergency, serve as a refuge for firefighters. Landscape elements were weighted heavily by the jury and judged based on their embodiment of fire resilient principles and beauty.

The jury consisted of:

  • Vince Bertoni, Director of Planning, City of Los Angeles
  • Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Studio-MLA
  • Geoffrey von Oeyen, Assistant Professor of Practice, USC School of Architecture


The site presents a perplexing problem. How can we design a landscape which accommodates our building and its users while maintaining the natural beauty of the wilderness?

The increase in catastrophic wildfires recently is partially due to climate change and partially due to our inability to manage forests effectively. Californian forests ideally burn every 10 to 15 years. This cycle allows forest fires to burn at a relatively cooler temperature which reduces the destruction of homes, habitats, and large trees. The burning of smaller shrubs and plants clears the forest floor and rejuvenates the soil thus creating a healthier forest. We chose to design our landscape through the marriage of natural and human-catalyzed processes. By implementing prescribed burns to the area, we can preserve the integrity of the California wilderness while protecting users, buildings and infrastructure from catastrophic fires.

The Building

A contemporary iteration of the classic fire lookout tower, our building is perched upon rail system which allows it  to retract into the hillside and remain completely protected during these prescribed burns or in the event of an unplanned forest fire. This means that 99% of the time when fire is not a threat, the wooden construction allows the user a quintessential lodge experience.

The Landscape Elements

A series of mass timber trellises frame views along the hiking trails and echo the enclosure of the main building. They are placed strategically within different forest conditions: the unaffected forest, within the prescribed burn area, on flat terrain, or on a hillside. Each unique site will perform differently during a prescribed or natural burn and our timber lookouts can help us to better understand defensible building strategies to implement in the future.

 
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Status: Competition Entry
Location: Los Angeles, CA, US
My Role: Designer
Additional Credits: Alison Iwashita - Designer
William Makoto Izu - Designer