Tag Archives: Black Rock desert

How housing experiments at Burning Man could help refugees

Camping on ‘Extraterrestrial’, one of the ‘streets’ at Burning Man 2013
Camping on ‘Extraterrestrial’, one of the ‘streets’ at Burning Man 2013

The desert festival in Nevada is inspiring new ideas about temporary homes and contemporary living

The question of building instant, post-trauma communities for the 21st century is one that has racked brains from Syria to New Orleans and Dhaka, but some of the answers could be provided by an experimental festival held every year in a North American desert. 

Burning Man is set in the inhospitable Black Rock desert of Nevada where, this week, 70,000 hippies, techies and adventurers will get down to some serious circus stunts, dancing and nightlong pyrotechnics. Costumes range from a human eyeball to camouflage-style queens in full regalia.

Yet, among these curious desert blooms, it is possible to find some radical, sustainable architecture.

Vinay Gupta, inventor of the Hexayurt, first tested his prototype cardboard living structure at Burning Man in 2003. He believes his flat-pack structures are a cheaper, more durable solution for refugee camps than the tents often used by big aid agencies.

Burning Man Art

In Black Rock City – as the sprawling Burning Man encampment is known – thousands of campers now use one of Gupta’s 13 designs and others that have evolved.

While take-up has been slow within the NGO community, the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, is now considering using alternatives to tents, inspired by the likes of Gupta’s eco-friendly temporary housing. The Ikea Foundation is funding a project with the UNHCR to create unique flat-packed homes designed by Sweden’s Johan Karlsson for refugees, which are at present being tested on the Ethiopian-Somali border.

Burning Man Art

“What Burning Man is doing is bringing back the idea of mass-produced housing,” says Gupta, speaking from a UN development programme in Belarus. While the likes of the Red Cross and the UN have been harder to convince, some techies facing high housing costs in urban centres are taking the festival’s ideas on board. For example, Alice Yu, a community manager at web app company Meteor, lives in a yurt she built herself in San Francisco.

Other living designs tested at Burning Man include yurtdomes, geotensic structures and the icosa pod, a structure based on triangular tensions. Meanwhile, companies such as Shelter Systems and World Shelters have blossomed out of the festival and now provide shelters for emergency disaster relief agencies.

While the ideas often look space-age, the roots of this type of innovation can be traced back to the work of Buckminster Fuller, the 20th century inventor of the geodesic dome.

Burning Man acts as an annual laboratory for architecture, art and design, but its role as an incubator of creativity has been somewhat limited to its participants and the not-for-profit groups that the festival has spawned. However, practical ideas for coping with the extreme hot days and cold nights experienced at the week-long event are starting to attract wider interest.

Projects like the hexayurt are exactly the kind of creative contribution to world living that the organisers of Burning Man have fostered since they started the festival in 1986 as an annual fire ceremony.

Burning Man Art

The festival aims to meld self-sufficiency and communal existence. There is no currency at the event other than trading skills or goods with each other, while everyone has to bring in their own food, water and other supplies.

Preparation is key to enjoying the festival – made famous by San Francisco’s tech elite. People can stay for as long as 10 days, while others fly in for shorter stints. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos have all padded “the Playa” – the term used for the flat, desert setting – alongside people from a variety of backgrounds, from business school yuppies to ageing hippies.

Burning Man gives people permission to experiment and think of possibilities they may not have tried before

Burning Man Art

It was the festival that gave Casey Fenton the inspiration for his global website Couchsurfing, which helps people sign up to stay on strangers’ sofas. “It was going to Burning Man and seeing regular people really going for their dream,” says Fenton, who attended his first festival at the age of 21 and has returned regularly over the past 15 years. “I left thinking I could do something. It’s a really, really inspiring place.”

Burning Man Art

The design of Black Rock City – the brainchild of the late Rod Garrett – is a radial arc, which has allowed the festival to grow or shrink every year without changing the urban plan.

“What is really interesting about Burning Man is it gives people permission to experiment and think of possibilities that they may never have been able to do before. When you start applying that to problem-solving it starts to get really interesting,” says Carmen Mauk, executive director of Burners without Borders, a not-for-profit group that initiates community initiatives and disaster relief.

The ideas behind the “maker movement” – another important backbone of the festival that encourages people to build and create – have even reached the corridors of power in Washington DC.

Barack Obama, the US president, hosted the first White House Maker Faire in June. “Our parents and our grandparents created the world’s largest economy and strongest middle class not by buying stuff, but by building stuff – by making stuff, by tinkering and inventing and building,” he said at the event.

Burning Man Art

The original Burning Man festival has created spin-offs around the world, including AfrikaBurn in South Africa, Kiwiburn in New Zealand and Midburn in Tel Aviv.

The community element of Burning Man has taken a grip through groups such as Burners without Borders, which evolved after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, prompting scores of volunteers to head straight from Burning Man to help. Burners – people who attend the festival – also joined the relief efforts after hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Burning Man Art

Other spin-offs include Black Rock Solar, which started out as a volunteer group installing a 30kW solar array at Burning Man in 2007. After donating the panels to the town of Gerlach, Nevada, the group helps schools and hospitals in the area to harness solar power.

The festival is funded by ticket sales, priced from $190 to $650, with students offered the cheaper rates, and it is shaped by 10 principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy.

“Leave no trace” is especially emphasised as every attendee is on the look out for “moop”, the Playa slang for rubbish. Every wrapper, every sequin and every feather of every boa has to be removed from the site when the festival ends. There are no dustbins.

“Burning Man is a fantastic case study in the power or repurposing of public space,” says Oliver Schaper, a senior associate at the architectural and design firm Gensler. “The willingness to participate; you have to be in it; you have to be involved.”

 

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FBI admits to spying on Burning Man festival

Gerlach – Newly-released documents reveal the Federal Bureau of Investigation spied on Burning Man, the weeklong art and music festival in the northern Nevada desert.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by California-based journalist Inkoo Kang, the FBI released heavily redacted internal memos, first published on Muckrock, one of which states that the bureau was working with local authorities to “aid in the prevention of terrorist activities and intelligence collection” at Burning Man in 2010.

The FBI cited the “ongoing war on terrorism and potential for additional acts of terrorism” as justification for the operation. Another memo revealed that the FBI was contacted by a security company hired by Burning Man organizers to conduct a threat assessment. The bureau said it had “no intelligence indicating any outside threats, domestic or international” and concluded that the biggest threats during the event were “crowd control issues and use of illegal drugs by participants.”

Yet another memo lists the operation’s two “accomplishments”—one is redacted, the other states “local agency liaison established/utilized.”

It is not known whether the FBI has conducted any surveillance or other operations at Burning Man after 2010, or how many agents were involved in the operation that year. The bureau has not commented on the release of its documents.

The FBI memos were made public just as the 29th annual Burning Man was getting underway. The event began as a small countercultural gathering on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986 before relocating to the Black Rock Desert in 1990.

The festival has grown in popularity with each passing year and now attracts nearly 70,000 people to the temporary community participants call Black Rock City, which is for a week the 6th most populous place in Nevada.

Burners, as participants are called, strive to observe 10 core principles, including radical inclusion, decommodification (aside from the $390 ticket price and ice/coffee concessions, no money is exchanged during the event), radical self-expression, participation, radical self-reliance and ‘leave no trace.’

Burning Man is named for the giant wooden effigy, “The Man,” that is burned with much fanfare on the penultimate night of the festival. The event is the highlight of the year for many Burners and many first-time participants describe the festival as a life-changing experience.

According to Reuters, Burning Man adds an estimated $35 million to the local economy each year.

Burning Man : Spectacular Photos of the Annual Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert

An aerial view of the Burning Man 2014

The week-long annual Burning Man festival has come to a fiery end, with the burning of the huge wooden effigy that gives the event its name.

Festival-goers lounge around an art installation called 'Pulse & Bloom'.

The festival’s site, on a dried-up lake bed, is dotted with giant sculptures that are burned each night of the festival.

A view of the Playa and the Man during the Burning Man 2014

More than 50,000 revellers have spent the last week camping in the Black Rock desert in Nevada.

People climb up an art installation as the Burning Man 2014 arts and music festival kicks off in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada

Money is outlawed at the festival, so revellers must bring everything they will need for the week-long rave described as “where Mad Max meets Woodstock”.

The art installation Embrace is set alight

Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart captured this year’s festival, which had the theme “Caravansary”.

Dillon Bracken (L) and Atalya Stachel dance during the Burning Man 2014

People interact with an art installation called The Super Pool during a dust storm.

A mutant vehicle drives across the Playa. Most mutant vehicles are heavily modified road vehicles, but some are made from scratch

People dance as a DJ performs in the Dancetronauts mutant vehicle

The Temple of Grace is set alight on the last day of Burning Man 2014

People watch as the Temple of Grace burns to the ground

A Woman Died At Burning Man After Being Hit By A Bus

Burning Man

BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. (AP) — Officials say a woman was struck and killed by a bus that was carrying passengers around the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Event spokesman Jim Graham says the incident happened just after midnight on Thursday. The woman was pronounced dead on the scene.

Graham says no other injuries were reported. Details about the circumstances of the crash and the woman’s identity weren’t immediately available.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Burning Man co-founder Marian Goodell issued a statement calling the crash a tragic accident and saying event staff members were offering support to those who were affected.

Graham says the last death at the event was seven years ago, when an attendee fell under a trailer.

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