Building Safe Structures

Burning Man Artist Guide to Structural Considerations

Questions regarding structures on playa can be emailed to
Art Support Services:


  • Architectural Drawings: Architectural drawings are drawings that show the design intent of the structure. They will include various views of the structure, including plan view (or bird’s-eye view), elevations, and/or sections. Dimensions with units should be included of the various spaces and what the spaces will be used for. Please convert all dimensions to (feet-inches).
  • Beam: A beam is a structural member in the horizontal plane. They typically support joists (joists can sit on top of a beam or frame into a beam with joist hangers).
  • Bearing Plate: A bearing plate is a plate that prevents the structure from sinking into the ground. They can be steel, plywood, etc. and provide a larger surface area for large point loads to distribute their loads to the larger area, thereby preventing it from sinking.
  • Calculation Package: See “Structural Calculations”
  • Column: A column is a vertical structural member that supports gravity loads (via beams or girders) or lateral loads (via bracing, shear walls or moment frames).
  • Construction Drawings: Construction drawings are the tools that a contractor (or the build team) will need to reference in order to build the structure. These include architectural drawings, structural drawings, any mechanical, electrical, and/or plumbing drawings as well as the material specifications.
  • Dynamic Platform: A dynamic platform is a surface that is elevated from the ground that people can climb or step on top of and experiences some movement (rotates, rolls, shifts, etc.).
  • Girder: A girder is a structural member in the horizontal plane that typically supports beams.
  • Gravity Loads: Gravity loads are the vertical loads produced from the weight of the structure itself (also called dead loads) and the weight of any people, furniture, etc. (also called live loads).
  • Joist: Joists are structural members that occur at regular intervals (typically 24” on center for roofs and 16” on center for floors) and support the roof or floor sheathing as well as any roof or floor finishes and live loads.
  • Framing Element: A framing element (A.K.A. framing or framing member) is a joist, beam, girder, or column.
  • Free-Standing Wall: A free-standing wall is a wall that is not attached to any perpendicular walls or supports.
  • Installation Plan: An installation plan explains how the structure will be built as well as the construction sequencing. This will help to flag any construction issues so they can be addressed early on; understand and plan for acquiring the required equipment that will be needed; and flag any safety concerns during the installation phase.
  • Lateral Loads: Lateral loads are the horizontal loads produced from wind or seismic activity.
  • Rigging: Rigging is tensioned ropes, wires or cables that provide lateral stability to the structure. They typically extend from higher up on the structure down to the ground and are secured with an anchor.
  • Static Platform: A static platform is a surface that is elevated from the ground that people can climb or step on top of and does NOT experience any intended movement (rotation, rolling, shifting, etc.).
  • Structural Calculations: Structural calculations are the analysis that shows the adequacy of a framing element under a certain loading condition. Structural calculations can be done by hand or electronically with the use of a computer program. They should show the loads applied to each framing element, any safety factors used, the span between supports of each framing element and lastly, should show that the framing element has the capacity to support the loads.
  • Structural Drawings: Structural drawings are drawings that show the structural requirements of the structure. They should include:

    • framing member sizes, location and orientation,
    • maximum or minimum span dimensions,
    • the framing members’ relationship to another,
    • size and type of fasteners to be used and their locations


For structures taller than 10 feet, or where failures could threaten safety, it is important that structural stability is considered; that construction is aligned with the plans; and that construction sequencing maintains a safe environment throughout the production cycle.

The following information is provided as a guide to help Burning Man artists in preparing for successful design and construction of art in the Burning Man environment.

Whether you are applying for an honorarium grant or self-funding your project the following are types of information Burning Man Arts will likely require.

    1. If the structure is between 0-10 [ft] AND does not have any static or dynamic platform(s) for human interaction:

      1. Provide a 3D model or hand drawn diagram of the structure
      2. Provide the installation plan
      3. Provide the deinstallation plan
    2. If the structure is between 11-15 [ft] AND does not have any dynamic platform(s) for human interaction OR if the structure is between 0-10 [ft] and has static or dynamic platform(s) for human interaction:

      1. Provide architectural drawings
      2. State in a very clear format:
        • the materials
        • the sizes of all structural elements
        • the quantity of the structural elements
      3. Provide the uplift and bearing calculations. In particular, the number and capacity of your anchors and bearing plates. Please provide detailed information on how the anchor(s) will be connected to the structure.
        • Burning Man can install/remove 4ft long screw-in type anchors with an approximate vertical load limit of 3500 lbs. Anchor plans are reviewed by Art Support Services.
      4. Provide the installation plan
      5. Provide the deinstallation plan
    3. If the structure is between 16-20 [ft] AND does not have any dynamic platform(s) for human interaction OR if the structure is between 11-15 [ft] and has dynamic platform(s) for human interaction:

      1. Items 1-5 from Section 2
      2. Provide construction drawings
      3. If rigging will be used to anchor the structure, please provide the forces experienced by the wires as well as how and where the wires will connect to the structure.
      4. Please provide the loads applied to the structure. In particular, provide information and the numbers used for wind and gravity calculation (including structure self-weight and people loads). If dynamic loads are used, provide the appropriate information.
    4. If the structure is above 20 [ft] OR if the structure is between 16-20 [ft] and has dynamic platform(s) for human interaction:

      1. Items 1-4 from Section 3.
      2. Please provide the calculation package (if available). The calculation can be done in any format, hand calculation or any computer program.  If a computer program is used, please provide a small document that includes the inputs and outputs of the program. Calculations should be done, in general, for elements including (but not limited to) joists, beams/girders, columns, bearing plates, anchor uplift and connections of one framing element to another.
      3. If only a portion of the structure is analyzed, instead of the structure as a whole, please justify the reasoning behind that decision.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In order for artists to assure the safety of the art structure (regardless of the size and application of the art structure), all the mentioned items should be followed. In addition, if the structure does not fall into any of the above categories, but it has a potential to put life in danger, Burning Man may request any of the items mentioned above.