Whitman Architectural quickly designs new homes for Thomas Fire victims—delivering one design in only three months

by the Digital Customer Success team and Heather Howe, Marketing Editor on December 10, 2019


Whitman Architectural Design, a four-person team led by architect Marc Whitman, has been designing residential and commercial projects throughout Ventura County, California for over 30 years. Based in Ojai, Whitman’s dedication to creating structures that work in harmony with the natural environment is what sets the firm apart. With a LEED certification and decades of experience working with the landscapes and communities in Ventura, sustainable and socially responsible design principles are always at the forefront.

Though architectural firms like Whitman Architectural make every effort to work with nature, nature doesn’t always work with the team. In December of 2017, the Thomas Fire raged across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroying more than 1,000 structures—many of which were private homes. When Whitman Architectural was brought in to help design new homes for the victims, the firm quickly recognized that fast delivery and solid communication would be key to restoring Ventura communities. Thanks in part to the team’s efforts to learn new Autodesk® AutoCAD® skills, Whitman Architectural successfully achieved a fast design turnaround—helping the wildfire victims to rebuild their lives in less than six months.


The damage caused by the wildfire was devastating, and the effort to rebuild was a massive coordination effort between local government, insurance companies, architectural firms, and the victims of the fire. Whitman’s job was to help guide the families who lost their homes through the process of rebuilding. The firm’s top goals were to help families figure out what their options were, design a new house, and help navigate the process of collaborating with insurance companies.

For the team at Whitman Architectural, using AutoCAD was standard. From experience, the architects knew that designing worthy homes would cost more than what the insurance companies were willing to pay. In addition, delivering a final design typically took between six months to a year—a time frame Whitman wanted to decrease in order to help families regain normalcy.

Whitman Architectural was firmly dedicated to helping families navigate the stressful process but maintaining a regular working schedule, coordinating with insurance companies, dealing with governing jurisdictions, and keeping design costs low all seemed daunting. These projects were being taken on top of already existing project, significantly increasing Whitman’s workload. Additionally, the Whitman office was located in the heart of the Thomas Fire devastation, and smoke in the area made working on site nearly impossible. The team needed to adjust its usual approach in order to successfully meet the needs of the Thomas Fire victims.


As regular users of AutoCAD software, the firm was subscribed to learning content emails sent regularly from Autodesk. The continual stream of emails highlighting new and existing benefits within AutoCAD gave Whitman additional opportunities to seek new ways of optimizing the team’s work for the families. In one case, the architects learned to take advantage of the Publish Tool within AutoCAD, eliminating the need to plot each individual page. Learning to use AutoCAD generated schedules saved the team hours of checking and re-checking doors and windows. This drastically cut down on drafting time, allowing the architects to spend more time coordinating with insurance companies, the local government, and the clients.

Whitman was also now using the subscription-based service. Thanks to this new way of working, architects could download AutoCAD on their home computers and continue working on designs away from the office, and away from the smoke filling the air.

"Architecture is a marriage of Mind and Heart. "

—Marc Whitman, A.I.A., LEED, NCARB, Whitman Architectural Design, Inc.


Leveraging Autodesk learning content to improve the designers’ AutoCAD skills meant designs were delivered much faster to the victims of the Thomas Fire—well under the typical year that most home designs take. In the case of one home, the design was delivered within three months. With designs in hand more quickly, construction could begin sooner as well. Achieving a faster project delivery meant that Whitman could complete designs within the budget allotted by insurance companies—without making severe compromises on the firm’s usual rates. The typical client for Whitman comes to the firm looking for their dream home. In this case, the fire victims were incredibly stressed, and had no vision for their new home design. Whitman was able to give the families affected by the wildfire beautiful home designs that didn’t cause an extra burden.

Working more efficiently opened up Whitman designers to working more closely with the families. The designers worked as liaisons between the victims, the local government, and the insurance companies, offering expertise that helped ease a stressful situation. Through this project, Whitman Architectural Design found a new way to give back to the community it has worked in for decades.

“The governing jurisdictions were unsure how to handle the increased workload caused by the fire, what process to have the owners go through, and had additional questions around changes in zoning rules and building codes. All this uncertainty and constant changes to the process added to the stress of the homeowners. We were able to step in and navigate the waters for them, working out issues before they even came to the clients’ attention. Many of the families were anxious to get a new home built as soon as possible. We tried to relieve them of some of those stressors by leading them through the process. Learning about and using new AutoCAD tools drastically cut our drafting time, allowing us to spend more time with the client and coordinating with the insurance companies and governing jurisdictions.”

 —Shannon Dodge, Design Associate, Whitman Architectural Design, Inc.

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