by STIRworldApr 12, 2021
Burning Man is not a festival. It is a temporal experience of a metropolis. While it is now more popularly associated with its neon light sculptures, art installations and the monumental effigy that is burnt at the conclusion of its annual existence, it is now a pivotal space of a global community. What started out as a summer solstice bonfire, on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, has since grown to accommodate over 50,000 people in an off-the-grid location in the Nevada desert. Each August, the Black Rock area is transformed into the Black Rock City. The city was born out of collective creativity, driven by a desire to experiment, and respect for the land they are occupying.
Meticulously planned, the overall layout is set up as a sundial, with the effigy as the gnomon. The radial streets indicate times of the day while all the annular streets are named. Since its foundation, the Burner Community has had a few core values - listed by Larry Harvey, the artist that began all of this and the main co-founder of the event, along with Jerry James - such as that of ‘radical self-reliance’. These principles laid the foundation for the design challenge launched by the Land Art Generator Initiative and Burning Man Project, titled LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch.
However, there is one significant shift. In 2016, the organisation behind this temporary city acquired Fly Ranch, a 3,800-acre property just north of the event site. The idea is to create a more permanent, year-round incubator to host residencies, gatherings, and projects. This would seem like an unusual direction to take for a community that is built on the concept of ‘leaving no trace’. This is a direct reference to the idea of respecting the environment, and natural heritage of the desert by leaving no physical trace behind, making it seem like this fantastical city simply disappears. In addition to being home to dozens of hot and cold springs, three geysers, wetlands, numerous animals and plants species, Fly Ranch and the surrounding region have been under the stewardship by the Numu (Northern Paiute) and Newe (Western Shoshone) people for more than 11,000 years. With every iteration of the event, the community recognises and acknowledges that they are mere visitors, and are guests on the land. Fly Ranch, while it does deviate from this norm, still intends to apply the same practices and concepts that cultivated the ephemeral Burner community.
Instead of rigging the site with generators, bottled waters, packaged foods, tents, and disposal of waste off-site, an idea to mobilise the collective desert-tested resourcefulness of the Burning Man community emerged. In a multi-disciplinary design competition, the Land Art Generator Initiative and Burning Man Project called for proposals from the global creative community to design and build scalable and sustainable solutions. Elizabeth and Robert, the Founding Directors of LAGI, tell STIR, “The top 10 teams will coordinate closely with the Fly Ranch team at Burning Man Project to develop functional prototypes. There may also be other projects, such as those in the shortlist that are prototyped. The details of this process will be managed directly by Burning Man Project”.
Like many countries all across the world that have pledged to slowly transition to clean energy over the next 10 to 15 years, the Burning Man Project hopes to generate solutions for a post-carbon world. An important aspect of Burning Man is that it is completely off the grid. The Ranch has a similar intention, it concurs with the idea of being self-reliant. The design brief which was launched last year, asked the proposals to address five specific areas. Namely, spaces for human habitation and thriving that enhance wilderness habitats; regenerative venues for learning, scientific discovery, and self-expression; permaculture systems for food and organic products; infrastructure for water harvesting and blackwater recycling; innovative materials and methods for zero-emission construction; energy infrastructure to generate power from solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass needed to be considered as integral aspects of the proposal.
With close to 200 applications, the team recently announced the top 10 proposals from the extensive shortlisted projects. Taking the top spot, selected by a jury vote is a proposal by a pair of designers from MIT. Zhicheng Xu and Mengqi Moon’s design, titled Lodgers: Serendipity in the Fly Ranch Wilderness, envisions Fly Ranch as a site to build a collective dream. Proposed as a living structure, the core idea of the proposal is to enable symbiotic relationships. The pair elaborated on their vision in their official submission mentioning, “The Lodgers encompasses all inhabitants on the land, including humans, plants and animal species and our proposed ‘living’ structures. Overtime, Lodgers will inevitably come, go or decay and return to the land. As the land responds to the changing of the seasons and the climate, it welcomes and responds to new ‘lodgers’. The ‘lodgers’ we propose to build on the land act only as temporary guests for a sustainable future”. Participation is key. The shortlisted projects and proposals are showcased on the project website and are now open to a wider discussion within the burner community as the studios begin to prototype their ideas.
You can see all proposals in detail here.