Da Vinci’s Workshop: The Piazza

Part of the Art, Money, and the Renaissance blog series


“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo

In realizing this year’s event theme, Da Vinci’s Workshop, the builders of Black Rock City are planning what may be their most ambitious project to date: mounting the Burning Man on a mechanism that will enable it to rotate on a vertical plane, and surrounding this human-powered contraption with a public square designed to evoke the terra-cotta and plastered-brick ambiance of a Renaissance piazza.

Elevation view of Man in background with Workshop in the foreground (Rendering by Andrew Johnstone)
Elevation view of Man in background with Workshop in the foreground (Rendering by Jack Haye)

In contrast to the historic squares of Florence that serve as its inspiration, Black Rock City’s piazza will be a playfully détourned version, re-imagined for our desert milieu through the use of repurposed, reused, and recycled materials. It will be anchored at its corners by four campaniles or bell towers, and flanked by four rows of Workshops, sheltered spaces intended for the teaching, learning, and practical application of art and craft.  Encouraged by the community’s positive reaction to the Souk in 2014 and the Midway in 2015, we designed these Workshops as the latest step in our ongoing experiment to turn the area around the base of the Man into a rich interactive space. To that end, we will be calling on artists, craftspeople, and tinkerers from across the Regional Network and beyond to help turn these Workshops into lively centers of creative activity, and have set aside a portion of our Honorarium Art Grant budget to help bring these ideas to life. Complementary groups will be encouraged to collaborate here as they do so frequently in their home communities, pulling together artist, organizer, and maker resources to fashion an updated version of the guild network that was a signature feature of Florentine economic and creative life.

Plan view of piazza (Rendering by Andrew Johnstone)
Plan view of piazza (Rendering by Jack Haye)

The emphasis within the Workshop spaces will be on experiential learning through hands-on doing. It is a hallmark of our community that in order to turn the fruits of one’s imagination into action in the world, new skills often need to be acquired. Whether it’s as ancient as sewing or weaving, or as modern as programming digital lighting arrays, Burners enthusiastically embrace new skills to make their art installations, theme camps, or other projects bigger and better. Walk into any maker space and the odds are good you will encounter at least one project bound for Black Rock City – or Pyropolis or Nowhere or any of the other 60+ official Burning Man events around the world. From our earliest days in the desert, we have fostered a culture that values doing over being, creation over acquisition, and the innovative application of new tools and technologies to the unique challenges arising from the building and rebuilding of cities. Anyone interested in learning more about the Workshop project and submitting a proposal can view the Request for Proposals.

Detail view of Man mechanism, looking up (Rendering by Andrew Johnstone)
Detail view of Man mechanism, looking up (Rendering by Andrew Johnstone)

Once an hour on the hour, the bells will ring out from the Campaniles, and a small group of randomly-assembled volunteers will be admitted to the Man base structure to turn a large horizontal wheel, which through a system of oversized gears will rotate the Man on the vertical plane. The combined effect will be that of an enormous clockwork, giving our City’s visual and ritual center the additional role of marking the passage of time. It will also allow participants, for the first time since 2005, to have a direct physical connection to the movement of the Man through space and time.

In addition to these elements, the Piazza will feature cunningly-wrought fountains and other public art designed to encourage repose, relaxation, and the meeting of friends. It is our hope that the space will be congenial to many forms of interactive play, whether a spontaneous performance, random acts of gifting, or a costumed procession. Taken as a whole, this environment is designed to create an immersive experience of creative collaboration, and it is our hope that the skills learned and relationships built here will help fuel the fires of Burning Man’s growing presence in the world.

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”  -Leonardo

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

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