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Black Rock City, Nevada

Burning man was off to a very wet start this year – the rain bands from Hurricane Hilary extended all the way to the Black Rock Desert, soaking the playa and the surrounding hills. Funny thing about an event held on a dry lake bed…. It’s a lake when it rains! And rain it did – Lake Lahontan rose to a few inches, which grounded all activity. Gate was closed and all on site traffic completely stopped for a few days during Early Arrival/ build week, which meant that once the playa dried out, everyone had to work twice as hard to bring the city to life. In the meantime, some folks definitely had fun imagining some watery art installations with AI!

Photo: Evan Halleck

As architects, we’ve enjoyed our adventures at Burning Man for decades, delighted and inspired by the creativity and community that is celebrated in such a remote location. Far from a “fun festival,” our experiences at Burning Man highlight planning, strategy, community and collaboration – a direct reflection of our own project process off Playa! Being on playa during early arrival gives us a wide experience of creation and delight – and here’s some of our highlights.

One of the most anticipated features of Burning Man is the incredible art that dots the Playa. Anchored by the Man and Temple, there are more than 200 pieces that add to the creative experience, not to mention art cars, art bikes and the creativity of the participants themselves. Not all the art burns – there’s a rigorous vetting and placement system that determines which pieces can be burned, and a schedule for each day’s burn – but even the temporary, ephemeral pieces that show for just a day or 2 can prove to be magical.

The eponymous Man himself sits on a pavilion which relates to the overall theme of the event. This year’s Animalia theme inspired an array of designs including snakes and beetles, but the winning submission is artist Tim Bremmer’s “Hive” – the Man stands on a network of honeycomb like structures, comparing Burners to a “proper bee colony” where everyone has their own “roles and exist in a beautifully designed place)

Photo: The Burning Man Project

Temple is a rare and special place on Playa, offering a cathartic space of quiet and contemplation, rest and restoration – it’s the site of celebrations and memorials every year. This year’s Temple of the Heart is designed by Ela Madej and Reed Finlay. Modeled after a desert flower, with a central Rose Altar that was created by community members from across the world, celebrating the sense of community that many Burners love.

Photo: Dennis Hinkamp

Burning Man Art Honoraria winners include Burden of The Beast by New Orleans artist Walker Babington, a fantastical folk-art sculpture depicting a giant, long-legged bison with a house at its torso symbolizing the task of relocating one's intrinsic understanding of 'home,' particularly in the face of a natural disaster.

Mock Up: Walker Babington

One of the most poignant pieces we’re eager to see is 1000 Hands, a monumental tapestry created with over 500 participants. Celebrating fine craftsmanship, this collaboration between Maria Gotay and Nic DeBruyne, stands 50’ tall, responds to the desert winds and includes swings at the bottom.

Photo: 1000 Hands Art

#VAGR is a massive inflated hot pink tiger, simultaneously impressive and whimsical! Created by Armenian artist Misha Libertee, #VAGR is intended to draw attention to the struggles tigers face in the wild. And the Playa wouldn't be the Playa with out the ever-present Art Cars, they never disappoint and we’re eager to get our eyes full. Two astonishing examples are The USS Galavant, one of Playa’s longest running Pirate Ship Art Cars and the wonderful El Pulpo Magnifico – a fire breathing articulated Octopus that roams playa day and night.

Into dust we go!

All photos provided by artists and participants and credited as available.

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