Burning Man Inspires Both Art and Business

The eclectic annual festival in the Nevada desert is its own experiment in sustainable shelters.
30 August, 2017
Some 70,000 people will attend Burning Man 2017 in the Black Rock desert, and that's a long way from its beginnings 30 years ago.
What started with two friends burning an effigy-like stick figure on a San Francisco Beach, surrounded by a few curious onlookers, has become an occasionally bizarre but always globally recognized event celebrating the intersection of art, tech innovation, philanthropy and culture.

When the Burning Man organization describes its "social alchemy," though, it's really talking about the people who attend. Those people, camping for a week in the temporary city, express their creativity and commitment to maker culture by building their own sustainable shelters. This year's theme of "Radical Ritual" is the design platform for temporary structures that frequently rely on aluminium materials.
Photographer Philippe Glade, author of a book on Burning Man architecture, explains that he's seen pretty much everything. "The main goal is to have very light components that will flat-pack and can be assembled by non-specialists as fast as possible because of the harsh environment," he said in a recent interview. "Designers are looking to inflatable structures, aluminum nodes, domes made of one size struts, pre-cut elements to prevent on site pollution. The ultimate goal of these designers is to create shelters that could be easily implemented in disaster-stricken zones around the world for a low cost."

One of the preferred designs is the yurt, now used by hundreds of Burning Man participants and manufactured by Advanced Shelter Systems for recreational uses as well as quickly deployed, safe housing in disasters. Company founder Christian Weber returned from Black Rock in 2015 to his northern California home, where wildfires had destroyed 2,000 buildings. He realized his Burning Man tents could be reused by the fire victims, so they were donated and the new business began its life.
Another company, Alien Buffalo, launched its products after the founders had trouble finding the perfect hut for their own Burning Man adventure and camping group. "Our team founders met as part of the Mayan Warrior camp, a group known for pushing the envelope in terms of uncompromising experiential design," the company explains. After several experiments, the Alien Buffalo team led by CEO Barrett Lyon, formed their own brand and created their own shelters.

The Alien Buffalo tents are inspired by the yurts but with five sides, look almost like pyramids when they're put together. The lightweight standard tent delivers 19 square meters of space at a center height of almost three meters. The lightweight, breathable fabric sides are pre-attached to the aluminium frame, so all users have to do is extend the legs to set it up and stake it down to keep it from launching. That's a concern at Burning Man, where the desert winds are a legend, but it's true for any camping use. The company says it takes two minutes for one person to put the tent up by themselves.
Image: Burners.Me
Aluminium also appears in some of the other temporary structures used by different camping groups to view the Burning Man city and, of course, the giant Burning Man himself. One group, among the winners of the "Golden Rebar" awards for the temporary architecture, used aluminium trusses to build their Panorama viewing platform – taking the already exhilarating Black Rock experience to new heights.
Banner image: Everfest