Preparing for Burning Man: Comfortable Desert Living

In less than two weeks 60,000 people will gather in the high desert of northern Nevada and form an improvised city in the dry lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan. Our fair city will be the tenth largest in the state of Nevada, and will have a higher density of creative ingenuity per capita than anywhere in the world.

My big project for this year’s burn is to build a large hammock stand and shade structure for our camp. I’m borrowing Bucky Fuller’s tensegrity design to build the portable and collapsible structure. Buckminster Fuller is probably known best for inventing the geodesic dome, but there are already lots of those out on the playa. His tensegrity design, on the other hand, is just as genius, quicker to setup, and less material intensive. Tensegrity, a contraction of “tensional integrity,” uses tensioned cables or cord to create a rigid floating compression structure. I would translate that to layman’s terms if I could, but here’s a picture instead:

Tensegrity Prism

My structure will consist of three tiers of interlocked tensegrity prisms (like the one shown above) that will suspend a 35′ nylon parachute over the center of our camp. The bottom tier will double as a hammock stand for three hammocks.

Here’s a quick breakdown of my materials:

  • 1 x 35′ military surplus parachute
  • 1 x 300′ spool of 4mm accessory cord (3000 lb working load)
  • 3 x lightweight hammocks
  • 6 x carabiners for the hammocks
  • 3 x ratcheting tie-down towing straps (2000 lb working load)
  • 9 x Snow Peak forged steel stakes
  • 3 x 14′ (4″ diameter) pine logs
  • 6 x 8′ (3″ diameter) pine logs
  • 24 x bolted eye hooks with washers and nuts
  • 18 x quick links
  • 1 x rappel ring

Tensegrity shade structure materials
…and now for a photo montage of the structure as it gets built:
Building tensegrity shade structure
I’m not finished building it at the time of this post, but here’s a picture of the structure as it is now:
tensegrity shade structure
I just need to do a little fine tuning on the cord lengths and add another tier and it will be ready to pack up and bring out to the Black Rock Desert. I’ll post some more pictures here when it’s done.
UPDATE – here is the finished product (minus the parachute):
Completed shade structure

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