“Black Rock City, NV” Unpacks the Ephemeral Architecture of Burning Man

black rock city, NV

The annual Black Rock City gathering of artists and hell-raisers known to us as Burning Man brings forth some of the most wild architectural structures we’ve seen on planet earth. In fact, many of the temporary dwellings summon an otherworldly quality… But that’s the whole point of the week-long festival.

Who else, other than the organizers of Burning Man, would think to hold an event in the middle of the unforgiving Nevada desert. It would turn out that this seclusion, and subjection to the heat, sand, and desolation of the desert elements, makes the festival and its art all the more intense.

The event itself calls for ephemeral living structures (to house festival attendees) that can withstand one of the most radical climates in the world.

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Philippe Glade, a photographer notorious for his shots of Burning Man architecture, unfolds this strange world and its infrastructure in the pages of his new book, Black Rock City, NV ($38 for US shipping).

Published by Real Paper Books, the hardcover, 200-photograph, 144-page, linen and cloth book archives the broad diversity of dwellings built to accommodate precarious living conditions in a remote American desert.

First discovering the city in 1996, The French-born Glade realized he was witnessing a nascent sociological event, and started documenting the organic evolution of its adaptive architecture.

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He drew the title, Black Rock City, NV, after the city that holds the iconic festival, but it’s also a play on the fact that this “city” is not real. If looking for Black Rock City on an official map, it won’t be there. Even so, once a year about 70,000 inhabitants participate at the biggest art gathering in the world. (Glade also maintains a personal blog around the subject, holding the same name.)

The artistic nature of the Burning Man event, taking place on a vast stretch of hardened mud, invites all participants to create distinctive habitats, durable to withstand a week of extreme, harsh weather conditions. At the same time, these structures must be modular enough to dismantle and take back home at the close of the week, leaving absolutely no physical impact or remains upon the surrounding environment.

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Numerous challenges confront everyone: a strict Leave No Trace policy, devastating 40 – 60 mph winds, a scorching sun, unexpected rains and frigid nights. (Just think about how you would build a structure to survive.)

The only way to approach such a design is with sheer improvisation, structural integrity… and year-long planning.

For Architects, designers, urban planners, not to mention students, Glade’s book offers a thorough survey of weather-tested temporary and nomadic shelters, unlike any in the rest of the world.

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Within the pages we become privy to a massive typology of structures that cover hundreds of approaches fitting the requirements of Black Rock City. Insightful captions and hundreds of resources also make the book a valuable reference in the category of ephemeral architecture and urbanism.

We’ll be quite surface and add it’s also fun to look at, and hands-down one of our favorite “coffee table books” of 2017.

Photos courtesy Philippe Glade, Real Paper Books