Original 'Man' carpenter, French architect working on 2018 Burning Man Temple together
Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani talks about his inspiration for this year's Burning Man Temple, called Galaxia. Reno Gazette-Journal
Since the recent passing of Burning Man's founder, the Burning Man Temple -- a space for celebration of life and death -- is expected to be that much more significant at this year's pilgrimage of Burners from around the world.
The Temple -- this year called Galaxia -- will be a 3D representation of the Milky Way galaxy, a spiraling, upside down twister of pine meticulously puzzled together over the next few months before Burning Man. Burning Man will be held from Aug. 26 to Sept. 3 in the Black Rock Desert, two hours north of Reno.
Harvey, 70, died in April after suffering a massive stroke, but the architect behind this year's temple insists that Galaxia cannot be just for Harvey, it must remain for everyone.
"Larry being a very humble person, he always would deflect to the community, saying, 'I’m not a guru.' This project is for him, but for everyone else too. It is for everyone, and I think that’s what he would have wanted. We're not here to celebrate one person," said Mamou-Mani.
Mamou-Mani, a French architect based in London, was in Sparks this week visiting the Generator, the maker space where the bulk of the Temple is being built this year. It is the first Temple since the Temple of Transition in 2011 to be built in the Reno area; components are being stored until shipment to the Gerlach area in the next few months.
More than 120 volunteers are working on the installation, a portion of them based in the Bay Area. The lower ring of the Temple is being built at the Generator, the top crown is being built in the Bay Area. The project has also enlisted the expertise of designers, engineers and programmers in London, Israel and China, Mamou-Mani said.
"The sun never sets on Galaxia because we're all over the world. Burning Man wanted to pick an international crew this year because it reflects the international nature of the organization now," Mamou-Mani said.
Galaxia is not only is a nod to the "in between" of science and spirituality, but additionally to the series of mid-century science fiction works by Isaac Asimov. This year's Burning Man theme -- chosen earlier this year by Harvey -- is "I, Robot," named for one of Asimov's most well-known short story series telling the fictional history of robots.
Fittingly, Mamou-Mani, is enlisting a number of robotic tools -- namely a 3D printer to create certain components, including a number of bioplastic teardrops in the center of the temple as well as an alter. Burners often bring mementos of loved ones lost and tack them to the interior, often filling the Temple by week's end.
"It’s a very deep and significant building, which is not so different from cathedrals and other spaces that were all about the passion and the faith in humanity," he said.
For Mamou-Mani, building the Temple, albeit not his first playa project, is not only a test of his own knowledge but an opportunity for him to teach and to learn. In fact, one of his volunteers is none other than Jerry James, who built the first-ever Burning Man, an eight-foot-tall effigy that over the years evolved into an entire structure often 10 times in size.
"I’ve been a real cynic, and I still have a lot of reservations, but I’m excited to be back and part of (Burning Man) and hopefully influence it a little bit," said James, who lives in Idaho but is part of the Bay Area crew.
James, who acted as the lead carpenter for the man during the early years of Burning Man, is working on the Temple this year for the first time in more than a decade. This project for him is a "turning of the page" and an opportunity to become familiar with who Harvey had become and what Burning Man is today.
James had exited the Burning Man circle after he and Harvey had a fallout and the two did not speak for years, but James said that they had a quasi-reconciliation over the phone just days before Harvey's death. Since, he's reacquainted himself with a new generation of Burners, and the outpouring of gratitude that he's received from them has been life-changing, he said.
"Folks like Larry and I, we’re approaching an age where mortality is flexing its muscles. It’s already taken too many of us. It’s next generation time. I think it’s great that (Burning Man) survived this long, and I’m glad there’s other young, inspired people that are taking it on," said James.
As a carpenter, James said this year's design for the Temple was particularly impressive because of the rounded nature of the structure, which requires calculated planning to execute well.
Mamou-Mani is known, however, for tackling organic shapes in his own architecture. Mamou-Mani, a professor at the University of Westminster and owner of a digital maker space, worked with his masters students to create the installation "Tangential Dreams" for Burning Man several years ago. It won the prestigious Architizer A+ Award in architecture in 2016.
For him, the Temple will certainly be the pinnacle of his work on the playa, but pushing the limits and growing creatively is what Burning Man is for, after all.
"There is still a lot that we don’t know and things that are way beyond us and that we’re nowhere near knowing. It’s all about hope and what brings us together as humans," Mamou-Mani said.