Building Safe Structures

Black Rock City Artist Guide to Structural Considerations

Questions regarding structures on playa can be emailed to Art Support Services: ass-help@burningman.org

The information on this page is a guide to help artists prepare for successful design and construction of art in the Black Rock City environment.

For structures taller than 10 feet, or where structural failures could threaten safety, it is critical that artists properly consider structural stability, ensure that construction is aligned with the plans, and sequence construction in such a way as to maintain a safe building environment.

Following is some information about your art project that Burning Man Project may ask to see in order to help you think through the process of building safe art.

BUT FIRST, an important disclaimer: 

This guide is provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. While we have done our best to provide useful information, Burning Man Project makes no representations as to its completeness, accuracy, or suitability to any particular project.

Nothing contained in this guide is intended to constitute advice specific to your artwork or to serve as a substitute for the advice of an engineering professional. Any reliance you place on this information is at your own risk. You understand that you are responsible for public safety as it pertains to your artwork or any other structure you build or operate in Black Rock City.

Documentation Guidelines:

1. If the structure is between 10 and 15 feet tall, you may be asked to provide:

  • architectural drawings, including sizes and quantity of all structural elements
  • materials list
  • number and capacity of your anchors and bearing plates, and detailed information on how the anchor(s) will be connected to the structure*
  • uplift and bearing calculations
  • your installation plan
  • your deinstallation plan.

*If appropriate for your structure, Burning Man Project can provide/install/remove 4-foot long screw-in type anchors with a vertical load limit of 3000 pounds. See details below.

2. If the structure is between 15 and 20 feet tall, you may be asked to provide:

  • all items from Section 1 above
  • construction drawings
  • a description of the forces experienced by the wires, and how and where they will connect to the structure if you use rigging to anchor it
  • information about the loads applied to the structure — in particular, the numbers used for wind and gravity calculation (including structure self-weight and people loads), and dynamic loads if applicable.

3. If the structure is 20 feet or taller, you may be asked to provide: 

  • all items from Sections 1 and 2 above
  • the engineering calculation package. It can be done in any format, hand calculation or computer program. If a computer program is used, please provide a document that includes the program inputs and outputs. Calculations should be done for elements including (but not limited to) joists, beams/girders, columns, bearing plates, anchor uplift and connections of one framing element to another.
  • an appropriate justification for analyzing only a portion of the structure (instead of the structure as a whole).

NOTE: Regardless of the height or design of your structure, Burning Man Project reserves the right to require any of the items mentioned above as a condition of permitting the structure to be built in Black Rock City.

Building Limitations on Playa

  • Limits on Digging Holes — Our Special Recreation Permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) only allows holes that are up to 1×1 foot wide and 3 feet deep. The reason: larger holes, when refilled, become either high or low spots after the winter rains, potentially causing a hazard to vehicle traffic and creating dunes. We encourage you to seek out options that do NOT involve digging into the playa surface whenever possible.
  • No Burying Bases — Our BLM permit does not allow any excavation for the covering of artwork footings and bases. Some artists build platforms to cover their base. Others use guy wires attached to ground anchors instead of a base. Still others buy or rent steel trench plates, lay them on the surface of the playa and attach their artwork to that. You can use accumulated playa dust to cover plates, but you cannot trench or excavate to cover them.
  • Minimize Trenching Please limit trenching to instances where wires on the surface will create a hazard, or be aesthetically displeasing to an art installation. For electrical lines or short fuel lines, we encourage artists to trench by hand, as this causes less disruption to the playa (electrical lines only require a shallow trench a few inches deep, whereas a trenching machine leaves a gash 8 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches deep).

Ground Anchors

Artwork must be sufficiently secured against the sustained winds and intense weather conditions that often arise on the playa. (Note: if guy wires are necessary to the installation, they must be flagged and lit at night.)

Burning Man Project provides the use of ground anchors, and we can install and remove them for you. You must talk to Art Support Services (ASS) in advance about your anchoring plan and the number of ground anchors you need. Here are the details:

  • The type we can provide are 4-foot-long steel anchors with an eye hook at the top and a spade at the bottom (cannot be installed through a base plate).
  • They have an observed failure point of 3,000 pounds each (in vertical tension, 90 degrees to the ground). If your engineer determines your loads are in excess of this, let ASS know and we can direct you to alternate solutions.
  • If you plan to use another type of anchor (American Penetrators, helical piers, etc.), you must provide, install and remove them yourself.
  • Anchors must be placed at least 3 feet apart, and cannot be ganged together.
  • You must provide all rigging required to connect to ground anchors. If you do not know rigging, ASS will consult, but you must provide the correct rigging and verify that it can support the loads your structure will place on it.
  • Ideally you should have a structural engineer create your anchor plan.

Check out this helpful list of architectural and structural terminology.