A project that's been ongoing for two years at California College of the Arts in San Francisco seeks to imagine new ways to rebuild the town of Greenville, which was virtually leveled by the 2021 Dixie Fire.

There are a lot of open lots and ruins that remain in Greenville, a historic mining town in the mountains of Plumas County. Before the Dixie Fire tore through it in August 2021, Greenville was home to about 1,100 people, and its devastation was one of the early stories to come from the massive fire, which would go on to burn for three more months and scorch parts of four other rural counties.

Greenville was the largest of the small towns that took the brunt of the fire, which largely burned through uninhabited forest land — the smaller towns of Taylorsville, Crescent Mills, Paxton, and Indian Falls also suffered major damage. In total, the fire destroyed 1,329 structures, most of them in Greenville.

But the long process of rebuilding is underway in Greenville, much as it has been in Paradise, which burned in 2018's Camp Fire. And a former student in the architecture program at California College of the Arts suggested that the school undertake the project of reimagining the town from the ground up.

Greenville on August 9, 2021. Photo by David Odisho/Getty Images

As NBC Bay Area reports, two years into the effort, there have now been nine courses and six instructors dedicated to it in the school's architecture department, with students doing everything from imagining new affordable housing units that could have income properties (both regular and Airbnb rental units) attached, to designing new community spaces that could double as economic hubs for local makers.

"Oftentimes when we’re in school we focus on the physical constructs of architecture, the buildings themselves," says Peter Anderson, a professor of architecture at CCA, speaking to NBC Bay Area. "But this is a perfect chance for them to really see that whatever they’re working on is related to people’s lives."

Students have been making regular trips to Greenville, traveling five hours each way to meet with stakeholders and community members as they draft plans for the town — which is a census-designated place in the unincorporated county, and has no proper city government.

Tyler Pew, an alum of CCA who now has a private practice, grew up in Greenville, and he first proposed the idea of s single course to the school's faculty.

But with many of CCA’s faculty being "deeply involved in practices that focus on climate resilience, climate change, and sea level rise," as an article on the school's website explains, the project quickly grew.

"What I was blown away with was that CCA said, 'Why don’t we make this more than just a class? We could make this an entire program,'" Pew says in the piece.

Anderson, for instance, taught a studio course focused on how to reuse or remake existing materials in the town. One concept was using pine cones and needles, which are abundant and flammable and need cleaning up on the surrounding forest floor, to make new, fire-resistant building materials.

And Anderson, who specializes in material technology, suggests that even in a fire-prone area like this, the building material of choice should be wood — but not just old-fashioned timber.

"We have a town that burned down catastrophically. Why would we rebuild it with wood?" Anderson asks rhetorically. "There is a lot of new technology such as mass timber that is actually very fire resistant because of how it’s made. This new way of using wood makes it thicker and when you expose it to fire, even a severe one, the outer layover will char and provide a protective layer for the inner surface."

The project Indian Valley Trading Post by Bennett Grisley (BArch Architecture) and Jesús Guillermo Macías Franco (BArch Architecture) creates a flexible, cooperatively owned trading post in Greenville that combines production, storage, and transportation under one roof.

The tangible outcomes of this work have yet to be realized, but the students' enthusiasm and ideas appear to be working well for the community that has to rebuild.

Sue Weber, a former nun and resident of Greenville, said she admired "how powerfully empathetic" the students have been. "We don’t think about when personal past trauma meets the current trauma, how it allows old wounds to reopen again. And I saw how students handled these moments with incredible empathy," Weber says, speaking in the school's article.

Weber adds, "Having these young energetic, unbelievably gracious and powerful people come to our community — ones who our community has fallen in love with — we trust them as we trust Tyler. They were able to help get us out of our paralysis, while we rebuilt our community."

Previously: Images From Greenville, the Latest California Town Decimated By Wildfire