As part of the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Planning department has worked directly with other departments to address a multitude of interlinked responsibilities each year. Our small, geographically diverse staff is largely made up of volunteers who interact primarily by telecommuting via the Internet.

Beginning in the early fall of 2002, we began working with the Director of Burning Man to design the central temple that was the support structure for the Man and a critical thematic feature in 2003. Later, we developed a series of plans and graphic designs, including various two- and three-dimensional architectural renderings. These graphics later represented our forthcoming event as prime features of the 2003 web site and brochures.

About this photo...The 40-foot high pyramidal temple, like the support structures of 2001 and 2002, served as a base for the Man and as its pyre during the event’s finale. This structure was also the main focus of this year’s theme, Beyond Belief, incorporating the talents and energies of many artists and technicians. The Planning department worked with all these individuals and groups, including construction, interior design, pyrotechnics, lighting, neon, Man, rigging, etc., through email and physical meetings to assure thorough understanding and coordination. We generated a detailed 3D computer model as a visual aid for scale, placement, and proportion, then we supervised the on-site temple construction and installation of the Man. The temple was prominently displayed as a frontispiece to a Burning Man article in the November 2003 issue of Artforum, and other publications.

Again this year, we monitored the erection of the third incarnation of the 45,000-square-foot Center Camp Café structure, first created in 2000. This process went quite smoothly, as did most of the city construction this year – at least relatively speaking.

While the purpose of this report is primarily to document our efforts of the past year, some discussion has emerged on the idea of enlarging or adding on to the café. As we have studied the issue, we feel this is an appropriate place to express our conclusions, although resolution of the question remains for the future.

We could possibly expand the café area by adding another 24-foot band of shade-cloth to the perimeter (increasing the footprint to over 60,000 square feet). This change may well involve the expense of cable replacement (which could be timely in any case) along with re-examination of cable size, anchoring points, tie downs, all engineering calculations, etc. This would be a large undertaking, and embark us into new waters beyond the current situation of proven stability, familiarity with erection, space requirements, and numerous other factors. The café is already a very large structure for such extreme wind conditions. Therefore, we would also like to examine some alternatives.

While it is definitely inadvisable to attach any type of add-on to the existing structure, we could erect two to four satellite structures, possibly similar to those originally designed for the outposts, in close proximity in the forward quadrants of the café. Their 94-foot diameters would add approximately 7,000 square feet each.

Another alternative to expanding the café would be to make more efficient use of the existing facility. This goal could be accomplished by removing all furniture and employing a wide band of small tables and straight chairs ringed inside the perimeter to facilitate drinking coffee and social interaction but not lounging. This change would open the central area to standing, dancing, or other activities while aesthetically emphasizing and maximizing use of the existing volume of space. These possibilities will be reconsidered in 2004.

This year the Planning department was asked to re-design Camp Arctica based on the service staff’s initial criteria of achieving the greatest possible economy with functionality and stability. The design was submitted and modified until consensus and approval were achieved. Subsequently, we were asked to re-work the design altogether to incorporate concepts introduced by a newly assigned builder. Ultimately, a small and very partial model was produced from which to build the structure. After several meetings, a difference in perspective caused the initial plan to be reassigned to yet another builder. Unfortunately this last builder redesigned the structure without reporting any changes. A civil engineer was engaged, who provided calculations for a heavy steel pipe roof structure, which was fabricated and erected somewhat precariously high atop wooden posts. This assembly had been added to support a centrally suspended artwork commissioned by staff prior to the event itself. In 2004 we hope to re-examine this design approval process and review the basic criteria for this facility.

During the course of the year, we consulted with Playa Info and the programmers who are working to fully realize our proposals for a computerized GPS mapping database for the entire city. This concept includes an on-site wireless network with interactive electronic information kiosks for uploading location data, messages, and photos.

About this photo...We also envisioned and developed a Palm- or Pocket PC-based Black Rock City map and directory program with added GPS locating capability. The idea was to distribute this city map and program for personal digital assistants on the web site and at the Information centers. Since PDAs offer far higher memory, processor, and programming capabilities than any stand-alone handheld GPS unit, they offer far higher potential for this application.

With a GPS attachment, the moving map could also work with a database to note and display the locations of all sites and installations, as well as people, photos, messages, etc., all in a small, portable, sealed unit. Without the GPS attachment, the PDA would have similar capabilities, except it would not indicate one’s own location. In addition to participants’ navigation, this tool could be a boon to site mapping and location for all city departments, plus medical, sanitary, law enforcement, and fire agencies. It would be a valuable aid to anyone in a dust storm. This project would not be completed for this year’s event,. However, the work accomplished will doubtless be made viable for next year’s event.

During the winter of 2002, the Planning department put together a new system for the placement and registration of art installations. The past system improved on the process it replaced, but some cumbersome features remained. The data was assembled by the department and given to a database technician, who translated it for input into a handheld GPS unit. This upload was left for the last possible moment, when as much data had accumulated as possible. Even so, the upload omitted late changes, which required someone with the appropriate equipment and time to upload the new data into the GPS unit, all during the mad crunch of building the city.

We began with a Mac OSX program that allows a user to click on a map spot and assign an icon and name as a waypoint, making notations, etc. in a pop-up box. This waypoint information is stored as a separate file from the map, so the same map could be used for different purposes (i.e., facilities, theme camps, or whatever) by simply clicking on the icon for that data. We calibrated the city map (that is, we assigned latitude and longitude points) and installed that data in this program.

With this tool, the art placement supervisor can lay out locations on the computer well in advance, add or modify at will, then upload directly to the handheld units and send them out into the field. The handheld devices can then record actual locations, if they differ from the mapping, and return and upload that data to a file, which can be added back into the central program. This data can also be easily exported for distribution through the Playa Info database system.

In addition, we undertook many and various smaller tasks this year:

  • We expanded the city plan to accommodate increased population and annual thematic changes, etc.
  • We again worked with staff to re-design the Staff Commissary.
  • We developed an alternate plan for First Camp, followed by a revision of last year’s plan.
  • We worked with the DPW and the LLC to revise our previous General Plan for Black Rock Station and incorporate changes mandated by Washoe County. (These plans were approved by the LLC and used for submittals to county officials by the landscape architects representing Burning Man.)
  • We broke down the theme camp grid we had previously originated into areas that could be represented on a single page. We further developed the grid to include all areas of the city plan.
  • We helped negotiate agreements for Frog Farm (Garrett Ranch) and contributed data to the restoration project there.

Submitted by,
Rod Garrett, City Designer
With contributions by,
Tony (shona) Guerra, Architectural Drafting
Zhahai Stuart, GPS Mapping