Playbook for the Pyrocene

A practical guide to wildfire-adaptive design for landscape architects, planners, and urban designers

We live on a fire-prone planet. Between 30 and 40% of the Earth’s surface is covered with ecosystems that depend on fire—a critical process in grasslands, savannahs, shrublands, and boreal forests across the globe.

Today, this fact is unsettled by an immediate reality: the frequency and intensity of wildfires is increasing. Those in the U.S. will be familiar with a litany of catastrophic fires that have become ingrained in the popular imagination, most recently the Camp Fire of 2018, which devastated Paradise, California, and surrounding communities, and an even more deadly fire in Lahaina on the island of Maui in August 2023.

Along with other impacts—including the serious health risks posed by wildfire smoke drifting over large portions of the nation—fire is front and center in the conversation around how communities are adapting to a world transformed by climate change and rapid urbanization. For professionals across the AEC industry, this is a critical moment for boosting fire literacy.

Building on four years of work through several research initiatives, publications, and partnerships, SWA is proud to share a new book, “Playbook for the Pyrocene”—a practical manual for landscape architects, planners, urban designers, agencies, advocacy groups, and property owners to rethink how we design and build communities in a fire-prone world.

Historically, wildfire planning has been largely focused on two scales: site-scale solutions to hardening houses and yards, and large-scale, macro shifts in fire regimes. In response, “Playbook for the Pyrocene” focuses on community-scale solutions, synthesizing concepts from a range of related disciplines including ecology, fire science, forestry, land use planning, emergency management, and indigenous stewardship.

Among the book’s findings are six broad guidelines and 20 applied strategies to reduce wildfire risk at a community scale—presented in an illustrated guide intended for a broad audience without specialized expertise. An additional appendix serves as a more comprehensive repository of topical resources, guidelines, best practices, and empirical research related to each strategy.