Minimal Matters: Burning Man Proposal

Inspired by the highly symmetrical and optimised physical properties of a triply periodic minimal surface, ‘Minimal Matters’ aims to create an explorative, meditative and interactive experience for visitors. It is a strained grid shell utilising the geometrical benefits of an asymptotic curve network; digitally designed via algorithmic rules to minimise material, cost, and construction time.

The proposal takes the form of a crystalline structure found in nature, interpreted through parametric design into a timber grid art piece. In the sense of repeating themselves in three dimensions, a gyroid is an infinitely connected triply periodic minimal surface. A minimal surface is a single surface articulation which minimises that amount of surface needed to occupy space. The proposal represents restoring a balance in energy, taking only that of the earth’s resources required to fulfil the form. Our inability to distinguish our needs from our greeds leads to excessive desires for life’s commodities. The efficiency of the design complements the beauty of rotational symmetry of a single node.

The lattice structure will create foot and hand holds to help climbers onto the series of sloping platforms; allowing users to survey the desert camp from different perspectives.

More than just a climbable structure, Minimal Matters is to be a resting place for festival-goers and a shelter from the strong sun of the site. The layers of grids cast shadows of varied patterns throughout the day. At night, LED lighting along the lamellas will celebrate it’s form and illuminate the playa.

1.5mm Plywood Prototype – 600x600x600mm


Inspired by nature, the proposal brings a parametrically designed structure into the realm of physical interaction. The piece is a culmination of thorough research and physical exploration of timber’s potential. The combination of conceptual bravery matched with architectural reality seeks an architecture of playfulness and beauty which will respond to the inclusive environment of Burning Man. It will celebrate a new design method for timber grid construction, and symbolise the harmony between nature and computational design.

Author: Sam Whitehead

My passion for architecture surrounds the idea of designing places in which people’s lives and stories take place. Perhaps taking influence from a family full of actors, I am inspired by successful buildings becoming the stage for human interaction. I found that studying architecture soon became a lifestyle; an ongoing development in approaches and outlooks which, in turn, developed a strong sense of self. Following graduation from the University of Nottingham , I have worked at Foster and Partners in London, and Grimshaw Architects based in Sydney. I constantly strive to compliment study with experience, and trusts my many travels have provided a great insight into the parallel notions of place, culture and identity. I am currently studying Part II at the University of Westminster, while working part time at Foster + Partners.

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