Should the Architecture World Care About Burning Man?

David Plick — 

Source: Mamu-Mani

Burning Man, the annual festival which started as an art experiment with a group of friends in San Francisco thirty years ago, and has now grown into 50,000+ participants, is founded on The Ten Principles: radical inclusion, self-reliance, self-expression, community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. This temporary city is constructed in the Black Rock Desert, approximately 100 miles from Reno, Nevada, and is devoted to the celebration of art and cooperation. Participants are encouraged to actively share their creative gifts with others, and to hold nothing back.

And a major part of that artistic celebration is architecture. In addition to smaller structures that inhabit the city, every year a temple is constructed on the site. But there’s one caveat about the built structures at Burning Man: they can “leave no trace,” which means they are burned at the end of the festival. It’s a “collective release,” where all participants unite for the sacrifice of the temple—a cathartic act of letting go. Architect Bjarke Ingels and designer Yves Béhar have voiced their affection for Burning Man, and many visual artists, such as David Best and Arne Quinze, have launched major careers there.

This year the sacrifice will be courtesy of Arthur Mamou-Mani, the designer of Galaxia (pictured above), and the director of Mamou-Mani, a parametric design firm based out of London.

Burning Man architecture is clearly striking, but is the culture surrounding Burning Man—the drugs and the disingenuity of it all—a deterrent for serious architecture lovers? While most of us have scoffed at least once at the culture of Burning Man, is there anything to be learned about the ephemeral nature of cities, how they constantly change and transform, only to be reconstructed again with a different population? Perhaps, like at Burning Man, all urban design is temporary, due to the constant evolution?

Yes, Burning Man has seemed to devolve, especially when they went from being a nonprofit organization to a for-profit company (Black Rock City, LLC) in 2014, but what can we learn about the movement of people, our purpose as city-dwellers, as citizens, as people who have the privilege to share our gifts with others (something you can do with or without Burning Man). Or maybe it’s just a crazy party with some noteworthy, unique design, and we should not read into it all that much?

To find out, or just to see that temple get burned to the ground, this year’s Burning Man is from August 26th – September 3rd. Get more info here.

By: David Plick

One response to Should the Architecture World Care About Burning Man?

  1. Hello David,
    let me rebound on your statement “Burning Man architecture is clearly striking, but is the culture surrounding Burning Man—the drugs and the disingenuity of it all—a deterrent for serious architecture lovers?”
    Yes, all the Black Rock City temples are striking, mind altering, beautiful and a structural feat in a place were gust of wind are fierce and structurally challenging.

    The temples are build by a dedicated crew working against the clock and against the deadly weather conditions of a high altitude desert. The temples burn nights are highly emotional and spiritual moments when a crowd of thousands witnesses in a deep silence going up in flames what was the spiritual counterweigh of a city build for sheer hedonism.

    Nevertheless focusing on the Temples to present the architecture of Black Rock City, home of the Burning Man event, is like using the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty to talk about the architecture of Paris and New York, interesting but limiting.

    For many years “serious architecture lovers” and concerned camps builders are developing structures and designs that comply with the Leave No Trace and Cannot-dig-too-deep-foundations requirements.

    Having to deal with the aforementioned 50+ mph sudden gusts, almost freezing nights and scorching afternoon, the citizens of Black Rock City have nurtured a vernacular architecture with specific structures just to mention a few: the Hexayurt, the Monkey hut, the Geometry Dome, the Gitana, the Bicho, the Space Cubes, the Bucky’s…
    Even the popular off-the-of-the-shelves Shiftpod pop-up tent was designed for extreme desert living conditions by a BRC citizen.

    As the city, its architecture is in constant and organic evolution with more and more students, designers, architects using the flat expanse as testing ground for their project, taking up the challenge of building an habitat on the dust.

    If you want to go deeper in the topic and discover the architecture of Burning Man do not hesitate to visit the blog This is Black Rock City that now for ten years showcases the ephemeral life of a city of 70 000.
    Enjoy the city without the dust

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