Building Safe Structures

Burning Man Artist Guide to Structural Considerations

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

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

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 is sequenced in such a way as to maintain a safe building environment.

Following are the types of information about your art project that Burning Man Arts may ask to see to help you think through the process of building safe art.

Documentation Guidelines:

  1. If the structure is less than10 feet tall, we may ask to see:
    • A 3D model or hand drawn diagram of the structure
    • Your installation plan
    • Your deinstallation plan 
  2. If the structure is between 10-15 feet tall and/or has static or dynamic platforms for human interaction, we may ask to see the items noted above plus:
    • Architectural drawings
    • Materials list, including sizes and quantities of all structural elements
    • Number and capacity of anchors and bearing plates, and detailed information on how the anchor(s) will be connected to the structure.
    • Uplift and bearing calculations
  3. If the structure is between 16-20 feet tall we will likely ask to see:
    • Items from Section 2
    • Construction drawings
    • If rigging will be used to anchor the structure, the forces experienced by the wires as well as how and where the wires will connect to the structure.
    • The loads applied to the structure. In particular, wind and gravity calculations (including structure self-weight and live loads), dynamic loads, and the inputs used for those calculations.
  4. If the structure is above 20 feet tall we will likely ask to see: 
    • Items from Sections 2 and 3.
    • The engineering calculation package (if available), done in any format, hand calculation or computer program. If a computer program is used, include 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.
    • If applicable, justification for providing analysis of only a portion of the structure, instead of the structure as a whole.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is the artist’s responsibility to assure the safety of the art structure (regardless of the size and application of the art structure). If the structure does not fall into any of the above categories, but has a potential to put life in danger, Burning Man may request any/all of the items mentioned above.

Ground Anchors

Artwork must be sufficiently secured against the sustained winds and intense weather conditions that often arise on the playa. Ideally you should have a structural engineer create your anchor plan to ensure that the appropriate wind speed and other forces are being considered

Burning Man can provide the use of a certain type of ground anchor, which we can install and remove for you. You must talk to Art Support Services (ASS) in advance about your anchoring plan to confirm that the type we offer are appropriate for your artwork, and that we can provide the number of anchors you need. Here are the details:

  • The type we can provide are 4-feet 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 a design capacity of 3,000 lb. 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.)
  • They are NOT rated for shear.
  • Anchors must be placed at least 3 feet apart, and they 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. (Note: if guy wires are necessary to the installation they must be flagged and lit at night.)

IMPORTANT: If you plan to use another type of anchor, such as American Penetrators, helical piers, lag bolts, etc., you must provide, install and remove them yourself. You will need to bring the appropriate tools to do so, whether by human power (e.g. using a steel bar with socket attached) or power tool (e.g. pre-drill + big socket wrench). Check your anchor manufacturer’s documentation for details on what is required to install in the hard soil of Black Rock City, such as this document on American Penetrator installation.


Check out this helpful list of architectural and structural terminology.