Prismatic pyramid evokes desert mirage by day, Aurora Borealis by night.
Given that their pyramidal acrylic installation at this summer’s Burning Man was inspired in part by Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon album cover, it seems safe to say that the architects at Red Deer “get” the festival’s vibe. “We try to get very intimate with our sites, so it was interesting to approach one that we hadn’t been able to visit,” said founding director Ciarán O’Brien. “Some of the primal forces we could see at play there were the heat of the desert and the way people interact with structures. Specifically, for us it was about light in all its forms.” The UK firm worked closely with the structural engineers at Structure Mode to design a transparent six-meter-tall structure comprising interlocking equilateral triangles, while New York Institute of Technology professor Charles Matz contributed an integrated light display based on the Aurora Borealis. “All kinds of imagery came to mind that held to the desert landscape,” said O’Brien. “By day, the concept evoked a mirage; by night, a kaleidoscope. One is ephemeral, a non-place; the other is specific, a beacon.”
Called Luz 2.0, the Burning Man installation is only the latest iteration of an ongoing exploration of the relationship between matter and light. The project began as a response to a commission for a band pavilion. “Red Deer’s original idea was a scaffolding framework that would be clad in some reflective material,” recalled Structure Mode’s Geoff Morrow. “We suggested going one step beyond that and building an acrylic pyramid, to make it much more special.” The clients canceled, but the designers applied for grants, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, and debuted Luz at Secret Garden Party 2013 in Abbots Ripton, England. The first Luz featured a touch-sensitive floor screen-printed with a colorful pattern that appeared to change shape under different lighting conditions. For Burning Man, Red Deer omitted the floor “so that you interacted with the playa landscape,” said O’Brien.
Red Deer and Structure Mode jointly developed Luz 2.0’s reciprocal modular system. “It was really interesting investigating how all these different connections could work, what different shapes could work within a three-sided pyramid,” said Red Deer’s Lucas Che Tizard. “The system we use is composed of equilateral triangles, but it actually gives us more than just pyramids—you see hexagons as well.” The architects worked first with hand sketches, then transferred their ideas to SketchUp before moving to 3ds Max, Rhino, and Vectorworks to finalize the structure and start to explore how the modules would connect to one another. Structure Mode analyzed the design’s structural stability in Oasys’ GSA Suite.
Red Deer flattened the final design and emailed the files to the CNC cutters. At that point the three-dimensional installation “became a flat pack kit,” said O’Brien. “Part of the challenge was that each of these pieces should be human-sized, so that they could be built by a small team using basic tools in desert conditions.” To simplify installation, Structure Mode developed a streamlined bolt-and-nut assembly based on furniture-making connections. “In a way it’s kind of low-tech, but it looks high-tech,” said O’Brien.
The UK contingent shipped Luz 2.0 to the Nevada desert in three crates. The components took longer than expected to arrive: though they had hoped to begin installation on Monday, the architects were forced to wait until Thursday. Nonetheless, the on-site crew managed to assemble the pyramid in just two days using hand drills. Matz’s team, meanwhile, arrived on site with the electronics, including custom hardware based on 3D models sent to them by Red Deer. The installation of the lighting system “came together seamlessly,” said O’Brien. “We were somewhat concerned about voltage, but it worked out.” The only disappointment involved the Mogees sensors, designed to trigger changes in the light show as visitors climbed on and around the pyramid. They worked well in a small-scale test, but “unfortunately the settings didn’t translate to the seven-meter structure,” said O’Brien. “I can’t say it fully fulfilled that brief.”
Red Deer and their collaborators will soon have another shot at realizing the vision behind Luz 2.0. As befits the installation’s emphasis on the immaterial—not to mention the ethos of Burning Man itself—the architects plan to re-erect the structure elsewhere. “We’ve had quite a few offers from various benefactors, but we haven’t figured out what would be best,” said O’Brien. “Right now it’s in storage in Reno, awaiting its next move.”