Empyrean: Meet Your 2020 Temple & Artists

Burning Man Arts is thrilled to announce that we have selected the 2020 Temple: “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse.

Every year, we explore a spectrum of design submissions from our community’s artists and builders, and we approach our decision with the goal of creating a special physical space on playa for Black Rock City’s citizens to share their reflections. 

Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space. We can’t wait to see their vision come to life!

Aerial view of Empyrean’s eight-pointed star shape

The Design

In medieval cosmology, “Empyrean” represents the highest celestial point, the apex where humanity can touch the cosmic dimensions. Fittingly, this sacred confluence is believed to be the birthplace of fire.

The Empyrean Temple is shaped like an eight-pointed star, 70’ at its highest point and 200’ in diameter, with multiple entrances and exits. Each of the eight spokes starts from a zero point at the tip and gradually rises and widens to form a canopy at the center hub.

These eight vast canopies create the sanctuary of the temple. The walls of the canopies will provide ample space to place offerings. The wooden panelling of each spoke transforms from solid patterns at the narrow tip into radiating, tessellated, artistic patterns at the wide end of the canopies. This allows sunlight to enter the paneling by day, while the canopy designs will be lit internally by warm white light at night.

Hovering above the central gathering space is a large wooden sculpture representing a flame. This flame rises up from the center of the Temple and can be seen from all over Black Rock City, day or night. The flame will be illuminated by a warm, flickering light to simulate fire.

Flag poles are integrated into the design; there will be flags that any participant can freely write on and pulley to the top, taking advantage of vertical space and allowing written offerings to be carried by the wind.

The central interior of Empyrean represents the point where one can interact with their own highest concept of the divine. This pinnacle point offers the healing properties of its central, eternal flame: reflection, resolution, release, and renewal.

The Lead Artists

Renzo and Sylvia are co-lead artists. They met and bonded over the build of the beautiful Temple of Direction in 2019, and were inspired to dream up their own Temple project together.

Renzo is a Colorado-based professional builder, architect, contractor, and sculptor with 30 years’ experience in these fields. He also has on-playa construction experience as a leader with the Temple of Direction.

“The creation of art, whether a large structure like Empyrean or molding a handful of clay, is a deeply fulfilling process,” says Renzo. “It’s a lifelong calling without a name or voice. The energy, drive and cooperative creative spirit that envelopes collaborative creation, like a Temple build, inspired me to submit a Temple design for 2020 and lead people to the height of their individual and group potential.”

Since 2013, Sylvia has worked on large-scale, interactive art teams and created her own interactive art at Black Rock City, Regional Events, and festivals. She recently worked with the Flaming Lotus Girls as a seamstress and welder on “Serenity,” a 2019 Honorarium project, and, as an on-playa Build Lead with the Temple of Direction. Sylvia also volunteers with the Burning Man ARTery. Between art projects Sylvia works as a Travel Radiologic Technologist specializing in trauma and surgical imaging at medical centers around the US.

Sylvia shares, “The Temple is a subtle and humble beacon that radiates at an indescribable magnitude. It offers a safe, neutral place that can facilitate powerful healing. During my first burn in 2008 when I went into the Temple, its transcendent energy helped me heal the paralyzing grief I had been carrying from the loss of my twin brother. That auspicious release allowed me to live life with a greater sense of love. I aim to create interactive heART, art from within the heart, that serves to help others find their own healing.”

How You Can Get Involved

Building the Black Rock City Temple is a significant undertaking. It’s also a chance to realize a dream and create a space for thousands of participants to have meaningful experiences.

Interested in joining the Temple Crew? While Renzo, Sylvia, and their team already have some roles filled, they will be looking to the community to help bring the Temple to life. The build will take place primarily in Oakland, and interested folks from other locations can get involved, too. We expect a call for volunteers to come sometime in the spring. In the meantime, you can let them know your interest, skills, experience and availability via this form.

Building the Temple is a big financial commitment, and the grant covers only a portion of the total expenses. If you’re looking to make a donation, we’re pleased to share that Empyrean has just launched their fundraising campaign. Please visit their fundraising site if you’re interested in contributing.

About the author: Katie Hazard

Katie Hazard

Katie Hazard (yes that’s her real last name) is the Associate Director of Art Management for Burning Man. She leads the selection, placement, and installation of over 400 artworks annually in Black Rock City and beyond. She’s been passionate about arts administration and grants management for many years; she has a degree in Art History from the University of Notre Dame, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, and spent 10 years at Harvard University as a Senior Grants Manager. Katie’s first year on playa was 2000, and she volunteered for 10 years (DMV, Man Base Lighting, art build crews, theme camp organization, Fire Conclave) before joining the staff in 2013. Katie is also a certified yoga teacher and has been a practitioner of Buddhist meditation for more than a decade.

38 Comments on “Empyrean: Meet Your 2020 Temple & Artists

  • Markle says:

    I’m very excited about this!

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  • Captain Chalupa Tequila says:

    Very beautiful design. Thrilled to see this vision come to life.

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  • Patricia says:

    Oh wow… love it! Love the messages sent up along flagpoles idea! Up into the stars, carried upward by the heart’s desire, fire, and wind!

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  • Walt says:


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  • Choo Choo d'L'Amour says:

    Last paragraph in The Lead Artists misspells “Syvlia” …

    Without Sylvia, I wouldn’t have made it to the Burn when I did, if ever. And then I repaid the favor by taking her in 2008 … and getting her stuck in a 4 hour whiteout between Gate and Greeters. S: “Is it always like this?” me: “Yep, pretty much always! ”

    Special shout-out to Chickaloon, Alaska for making it all possible.

    Sylvia is an unstoppable force of the cosmos and I can’t wait to see this dream come to fruition.

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  • Stephen S Bissinger says:

    “The flame will be illuminated by a warm, flickering light to simulate fire.”

    Reminiscent of 2009’s Fire of Fires Temple (with actual fire vortex within)

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  • Jeremy says:

    Love it! Love the flags and elements that foster motion. Powerful symbolism and space. Thanks! Our camp already pledged to support and we’ll be encouraging people to volunteer for temple crew.

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  • Beldeca says:

    I felt overwhelming energy at the prospect of looking from deep within into the sky.

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  • MannyR says:

    Beautiful design!

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  • ladybee says:

    beautiful, compelling, and well thought out. Bravo!

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  • Legend says:

    beautiful design, i bet it will look even better in person. =)

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  • Great Grey says:

    Love the idea that motion is incorporated into the design by the use of different flags. Recent past designs have been very static

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  • Mrs Ferguson says:

    It is impressive already. A great design. Congratulations.

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  • HoochieCooh says:

    My name is Mike  and I’m from Columbus Ohio. I have never had the privilege of taking part in the festival, only watched and read about it in years previous. Exceptional creative work with that Temple design! After coming across this article today and learning about the new exciting empyrean, I am incredibly and unbelievably excited 2 see it come to life in person in 2020. I absolutely love the creativity and the premise of cosmic proportions. Super awesome that from an aerial it looks like the Northstar! I’m also excited to say that I now and making it an absolute priority 2 be at the 2020 burn, witch, will be my first visit. I am also going to be lending my skilled labor, sweat, and blood if necessary, to help with the project as volunteer. Many thanks to all who are involved, I’m extremely excited and blessed to have the opportunity to be apart of this amazing, and for me, life changing , universally enlightening and ultra karmico and immensely epic, once in a lifetime get together they call the Burning Man! Thank you! thank you! thank you!

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  • Geo says:

    Very powerful and tranquil at the same time – wow! – can’t wait to see it on my second time to Burning Man!

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  • SinglePly says:

    YES! I like the flags too! Will Empyrean be carbon neutral? Oops. Sorry. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to bring that up.

    Black Rock City 2019 – Did You Know?

    About 80,000 participants, event employees and volunteers produced approximately 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (1). An average of 2,500 pounds per individual.

    By comparison, the entire state of Nevada (3 million people) produced approximately 910,000 tons within an equivalent time period (2). An average of 607 pounds per citizen.

    In other words 2019 Black Rock City produced the equivalent of 11% of Nevada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    (1) Burning Man Project: 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap.
    (2) (a) Nevada Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Projections, 1990-2030, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection 2016 Report. (b) Assumes that 80,000 participants, event employees and volunteers occupied Black Rock City over seven days.

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    • Irwin says:

      I realize that BM is most likely an environmental negative, but a more meaningful measure of its impact would be to calculate the *difference* between total BRC emissions and whatever emissions would otherwise be generated by all of the attendees remaining in their home cities for an equal amount of time. Driving to work/diner/shopping, running their air conditioners, etc. Can this data be known?

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      • chichihardcore says:

        exactly! its all relative – without the comparison, the data is essentially meaningless. i agree, BM cannot be entirely green, but the data requires perspective. the author DOES give some insight via the nevada data. if we can assume most people produce similar emissions, it would be also safe to assume that people produce OVER four times the greenhouse gas at burning man than they do at home. something to think about…

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  • Sheck says:

    I went to empyrean.com to donate and it’s an investment firm’s website. The end of the video should be updated with the correct place to donate:


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  • Sirius One says:

    Inspired design, love it. Would it be possible to add some sitting areas around the perimeter? It’s nice to have a transition zone where people can settle for a time, collect themselves and rebalance emotions. If the benches had a bit of shade, it would be even better. thanks xx

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  • Every Year………the imagination and dedication to make it happen )'(

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  • Brigit Zent says:

    Will there be anywhere to sit? My biggest gripe about the temples these past few years is lack of seating–forcing people to sit on the ground.

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  • Yes to sitting areas please! It sure is nice to have areas where Burners can take a break, have a snack, recover and recuperate. Click on my name to see a picture of the 2019 Man Base sitting area.

    Thank you!

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  • Dondon says:

    What the F? Worse than last year. LOL

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  • Ifffy Anne says:

    Kickstarter link??? Let’s sell f*ing t-shirts, hoodies and water bottles too! Buy my shit please and they are asking for $225,000.00?


    What is this Temple made from Gold?

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  • StephanS says:

    Why this become so Commoditized? I agree the builders are selling lots of garbage? It is like cheap marketing.

    Maybe you should give them a grant to help them build a Temple. Why do they have to raise $225k by themselves. I pay lot for tickets and you can help them build the Temple.

    Very confused?

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  • MingLess says:

    Is Burning Man ran by the Chinese Government?
    Is this artist your cousins sister?
    Is the word nepotism?

    Why have you chooses such a bad design again. First Gordie and now Renzo?
    Renzo knows Gordie as they were helping build last year’s Temple of Blah.

    Mediocre kills the spirit of Burning Man. I fly around the Earth to come to see this?


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  • BabyYoda says:

    Yoda voice

    “Some sour grapes I feel here from other architects”.

    “If you want to win the Temple competition, Gordie and Renzo you must sleep with”

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  • Fry's Electronics QA says:

    Do you have a list of people that one should attempt to sleep with to gain such unfair advantages.

    Are can one get such approval with just a comfy set of knee pads.

    I don’t think so you need to prove yourself with your ability to perform on the Playa hopefully the architects have actually built something in real life.
    And no that lopsided birdhouse you made in high school doesn’t count.
    And please build a project does not require 400 2 inch wide nylon straps to assist it so it does not collapse.

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  • benjamin moore says:

    I just hope they remember to paint the thing this year.

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  • Jay-Zee says:

    How come Radical Self-reliance is a Principle but you the SLUMLORD rents RVs that are even delivered to the Playa? It looks like you make about about $300,000.00 per year in rentals!

    This all seems like BS!

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