Interview with Arthur Mamou-Mani
I met Arthur at the press conference at Burning Man, Nevada in 2018. Arthur is French born architect specializing in digitally-designed and fabricated architecture, custom products and interfaces. He has been the first not-US born architect to be selected for Temple installation at Burning Man, 3D printed Temple Galaxia.
In September in 2018, right after arriving from Burning Man, I interviewed Arthur about th
WHAT DOES TEMPLE GALAXIA MEAN TO YOU?
The temple is fairly new, it is 18 years old. It needed to look spirituality in a way that people can recognize, like a Buddhist temple, Renaissance temple, like a pagoda. This temple wasn’t looking like anything else apart from itself. And somebody said that finally the Burning Man Temple has found its own language. There’s no need to reference from elsewhere. Maybe this temple for the first time has reached maturity now and has had enough existence to define itself as opposed to reference to something else.
There is obviously that design of the temple and the construction and there is also just the temple in general and what it means to people regardless of the design. And there is Burning man in general and there is spirituality in general. I think this is just a materialization of a much bigger idea and much bigger framework than just this design. This was also trying to materialize those bigger ideas into a project that is not so linear.
For the first time this year they wrote a public brief for Burning Man temple and opened it up to the public in terms of getting a designer outside of the previous circle. They wanted OPENNESS, INTIMACY with a large space in the middle while having spaces for OFFERINGS.
Team talked together about what the temple means and should it be permanent or is it useful because it’s temporary. On the last day of Burning Man, the temple was burned down as part of the closing ceremony. It was fantastic; Tristian (son of Burning Man founder Larry Harvey) turned to the crowd and said: “ I love you all. We should all love each other. That’s what he would have wanted”.
That was really powerful. It was just a stunning fire. For me it’s interesting because the architecture continued with the fire. You know the timber became fire, became flame and then it became smoke and everything on that process was architectural. FIRE IS JUST ANOTHER MATERIAL than wood but it’s still a space and it’s still a geometry that we have even less control over. The whole project was about LETTING GO AND NOT HAVING CONTROL. Fire is such an architecture that nobody has control really.
IF YOU DESCRIBE BURNING MAN AS A METAPHOR WHAT THAT WOULD BE?
EVERYONE at Burning Man IS CREATIVE. I mean everyone in the world is creative but at Burning Man there is no limit, does it matter that you’re a banker, a lawyer, or doctor. You are an artist and this is very important for me.
Our journey started when we explored with students how principles of Burning Man could have an impact on architectural design. After a few years with different projects we worked on Project Temple Galaxia, Burning Man 2018 installation. This was our biggest project so far, meaningful to everyone.
Temple Galaxia was like a RIVER from the start in our office to installation at Burning Man, Nevada. It was a collective experience, very emotional and took us through different landscapes. We had to make a critical decision whom to take and whom not to take to the Burning Man event, while allowing everybody to be a part of the temple through radical inclusion (one of Burning Man principle). While progressing the river was getting faster with different landscapes with all materials and logistics. With the time the river was becoming wider, the team growing, getting closer to the sea – arriving in Nevada. It was very draining, costs exploded, with panic attacks, upstream, downstream, where are we going to build? Rocks in the river – team members going a bit crazy and using the temple as an excuse for other things. We were like a sponge, we gave everything.
Then we started with finalization to bring the temple together while facing the doubts that the temple would not stand up and it did, a real moment of celebration. It worked! We realized it when we removed the scaffolding that held the project together. I remember that moment, I could breathe again when we opened it to the public on Wednesday at 2pm!
AND RIVER, HOW DOES IT LOOK NOW?
Now, the river is huge. It’s got lots of boats everywhere and we’re not quite sure where we’re navigating towards. There are definitely more boats and we are in the bigger boat. In fact, we can see that the tank fuel is out there and it’s calling for us but it’s just not in our boat. So, we are waiting to get fuel and knowing that we have a bigger boat takes more fuel.
I think it activated a lot of desires to do the kind of projects that are as meaningful. I think we need to switch from gas to the winds. Now we were just so keen to apply everything we’ve learned on new projects. It’s a very positive feeling. Who knows what’s going to happen to us.
We were talking about the impact on the outside world, should we build another temple or should we use it to do something that is more impactful on communities that would not come to Burning Man. We had such beautiful energy with a team of volunteers, so do we open up? You know this river that we created could go into the direction towards similar things or do we take it to other places.
Wishing you Arthur and the team creative surfing!
To learn more about Arthur’s work go to: https://mamou-mani.com/