BurnIng Man 2020: A BIomImetIc structural organIsm at Sahara Desert



Instructors: Güzden Varinlioğlu, Hugh Clarke, Filiz Keyder Özkan, Onur Dinmez, Ayşe Bozkurt Karal, Çağlar Şendikici, Ece Küreli.

Guests: Prof. Asterios Agkathidis and his master students (University of Liverpool), Prof. Yüksel Demir (İTÜ), S. Müge Halıcı (İTÜ), Furkan Sinan Üğütmen (ODTÜ), Argun Tanrıverdi (Dmakerlab), Gözde Damla Turhan (IEU), student assistants (EcoFAB). 

The Burning Man (BM) is an anti-consumer social experiment -not a festival- held annually in the western USA at Black Rock City (BRC), a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada. The late summer ‘experiment’ is an event of community and art, influenced by ten main principles: radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, leave no trace. BM first organized on Baker Beach in San Francisco, California as a bonfire ritual on summer solstice in 1986. Over the years, the event moved to Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Rod Garrett, an architect built the circular/radial city layout as a requirement so that each camp has an address. As the population of Black Rock City grew, further rules were established in relation to its survival:

  • Playa: There is a pentagon fence around the city, surrounding 14km2 of area. The 14.8 km long temporary plastic fence that surrounds the event and defines the pentagon of land used by the vent on the southern edge of BRC dry lake and restricts the attendees. This site is called the playa, with a grid street structure in a radial city plan.
  • Living Units: There are theme camps within the designated areas on the playa where the BM participants live.
  • BM costumes: Each participant designs their own playa costumes. 
  • Temple/BM statue: There is a Burning Man statue at the center of the playa and a Temple further in the playa. Keep in mind that the BM festival also includes mutant vehicles -art cars with a speed limit of 8km/h and a ban on driving, except for approved vehicles, and artworks spread within the playa).

Each year, the size of the Black Rock City as well as the number of participants – called “burners” changes. In 2019, BM included 80.000 “burners”. As the BM is getting larger each year, the BM authorities decided to have local ‘burns’ at various parts of the world. For the Afro-Eurasia region, they decided to organize the event in the Sahara Desert, the largest and hottest desert in the world.


In this project, your mission is to design a biomimetic structural organism that will function as a temporary habitat for a local BM on the Sahara Desert. In this workshop, each group is given a site of 2 km in diameter from the ELK plugin and make a 1/500 topographical model of that site within the boundaries of which your structural organism will emerge, extend, move and shrink. This project includes 3 stages: you are asked to design the playa (a living unit and its growth/shrink pattern) at stage 1, a costume at stage 2 and a temple/BM statue at stage 3 for BM20 at Sahara Desert. Please see below to choose a biomimicry insect/arthropod: Pinacate Beetle (Stinkbugs), Western Tiger Swallowtail, Tarantulas, Cicadas, Dragonflies, Praying Mantis, Centipedes, Scorpions Stinkbugs, Termites, Walking Stick, Tarantula Hawk Wasp.


Following the BM principles, you are to design a local Burning Man in the Sahara Desert. The project site in the desert would be different from the one in Black Rock City in terms of its geographical and climatological context.

The Sahara Desert is located on the African continent. It is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert overall after Antarctica and the Arctic. The desert comprises much of North Africa, excluding the fertile coastline of the Mediterranean. It covers 9 million square kilometers. The landscape is varied, with mountainous regions, sand dunes, rocky areas and oases with plants and water. There are underground water channels, however the daily evaporation exceeds the daily precipitation, resulting in the dry and arid desert climate. The Sahara mainly consists of rocky hamada (stone plateaus). Ergs (sand seas- large areas covered with sand dunes) form only a minor part but many of the sand dunes are over 180 meters high. Storms, high winds or rare rainfall shape the desert features: sand dunes, dune fields, sand seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), dry lakes (oued), and salt flats (shatt or chott). Precipitation, cold, temperature, dust, dust storms, ever-changing landscape/contours and extreme temperature differences between night and day are characteristics of the desert climate. The plants and animals that live in the Sahara have evolved to survive in these extreme desert conditions. 


During the workshop, you will work in groups of 6 students, and share the workload of various tasks such as:

  • Digital/Parametric Modeling/Fabrication
  • Digital Representation
  • Research/Sketching/Note taking

The workshop will start with a biomimetic process. After an introduction to biomimicry in architecture, each group will be assigned an animal that lives in the Desert. Your first task is to research and analyze your particular plant or animal. Then, you are asked to design a unique organism that does not simply resemble it but mimic and interpret its function and formation. You should present your design idea by sketches, diagrams, sketch and development models, etc. You are asked to make digital parametric models of your design by using specific software, Rhino-Grasshopper and special plug-ins as well as produce physical models in laser cutting and 3D printing techniques.

Please note that this workshop does not simply promote human access/interference in this extreme environment. Considering the ecological damage created on Earth by mankind, you may be completely against such an attempt. In light of current trends of space making, we primarily aim to satisfy the learning objectives of indicated above. 

 For further information on BM, please visit https://burningman.org.
 Drone’s eye view of BM 2013, Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2ThTb6iffA.
 For further information on BM ten principles, please visit https://burningman.org/culture/philosophical-center/10-principles.
 For further information on BM Architecture, please visit https://www.dezeen.com/tag/burning-man.
 For further information on ELK plug-in, please visit https://www.food4rhino.com/app/elk.
 For further information on the Sahara desert insects, please visit https://www.desertusa.com/insects.html#ixzz6CnqDcBMO.
For further information on the Sahara desert, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIAkJg8knTI.

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