Burning Man takes place every August in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in northwest Nevada. It’s not a pleasant place, with triple-digit temperatures, 30-mile-an-hour winds and blinding sand storms. Yet that doesn’t stop some 70,000 burners pouring in for a good time. And erecting an entire city in the process.
French architecture nerd and photographer Philippe Glade is fascinated by the wacky DIY structures people build to withstand the elements, documenting the very best in his book Black Rock City, NV. The sweeping images capture everything from a Tetris-inspired sound stage to a Dome of Dough, built from 850 loaves of bread. “It’s ground zero for testing new possibilities, new techniques, and getting really creative,” Glade says.
The first Burning Man occurred in 1986 at Baker Beach in San Francisco, but eventually relocated some 400 miles northeast to a dried-up lake bed in the Black Rock Desert. The temporary city sits within a 1.5-mile-wide concentric circle, its streets radiating outward from the festival’s “Man” sculpture. Many shelters are inspired by Bedouin tents, Mongolian yurts, and Native American tepees. They’re built from cheap, recyclable materials that can hopefully survive the environment. “Everything you take to the desert will get destroyed,” Glade says. “If you have a nice Prada shirt, don’t take it to Burning Man.”
Glade learned this firsthand when he attended in 1996, bringing a flimsy tent that was so hot and uncomfortable he slept in his car on seats coated in a thick layer of dust. The next few years weren’t much better. He tried canopies that blew away, a space blanket shredded by the wind, and a camouflage net melted by the sun. Exasperated, he began biking around camp, photographing more successful shelters and chatting with their owners for advice.
He’s photographed countless structures since, posting more than 2,000 images on his Burning Man architecture blog and honoring his favorites every year with something he calls the “Golden Rebar Awards.” His vast photos are often eerily void of people, letting you better see the buildings. Whether a six-sided hexayurt or a giant duck, each conveys the untamed, handmade spirit of the event.
Glade eventually figured out his own shelter, too: a simple but sturdy tarp extending from his van, grounded with metal poles and 18-inch rebar stakes. “It’s very spartan,” he says. It’s maybe not the coolest structure at Burning Man, but it’ll do.
Black Rock City, NV is available through Real Paper Books.