The Mandalarium- A Burning Man Proposal

Of all the Burning Man Principles, ‘Radical Self Expression’ has the most resonance to me.  How can I truly express myself, when I don’t even know who I am?

Our world, our society and our own identities are so often defined by the company we keep, our socio economic backgrounds and, more than ever before in this generation’s lifetime, our political outlook.

At this time, it is vital for us to discover, question, explore, follow, develop, become our true inner self, and for our contemporaries to not only accept but to celebrate our individuality.  It is not the time to conform to others.  It is the time to confirm who you are and who you want to be.

The Mandalarium is an intimate, ritualistic experience, encouraging the individual to engage with their true inner-self through the ritualistic process of personal or collective meditation.  This geometric mandala’s relationship with the sun represents the seemingly eternal struggle to understand one’s true self.

The Mandalarium at midday – the sun aligns perfectly with the mandala to cast a perfect shadow within the temple

The Mandalarium erupts from the earth like a fallen temple.  A typical temple, pointing to the heavens, is challenged- the Mandalarium inclines towards the sun. The Mandalarium is not intended as a religious sculpture, but a sanctuary of the self.

The meditative cupola is comprised of hundreds of reciprocal rattan pieces, rhythmically constructed, as with a mandala.  Supporting and grounding this inclined net is a series of columns, creating a semi enclosed environment within which to meditate.  Participants may feel cocooned and comforted within this circular structure.

Perspective isometric- Sunpath and shadows
Perspective isometric- Sunpath and shadows

As the sun glides along the playa, the shadows formed by the intricate layers of the Mandalarium are distorted, extruded and extended.  At midday the sun will align so that a true shadow of the structure is cast- its true inner self is realised.  The Mandalarium will be colourfully lit at night, encouraging participants to rest and meditate a while.

The Mandalarium at night
The Mandalarium at night

Experience the Mandalarium

To experience an interactive ‘walk through’ of the current concept, please download the Unity clip (and supporting files) below.  The interactive clip offers an insight into the transforming illumination as a day on the Playa progresses.  Every ten seconds in real time represents one hour on the Playa, although the lights at night time are shown to gradually change as proposed in real time.  Experience the Playa for 24hrs from midnight on 27th August 2017.  You will not need to download any programs to run this Unity viewer, just launch full screen and control the walk through with the WASD keys and your mouse!

A special thanks is extended to Ross Cairns for his Unity introductory workshop organised during the University of Westminster’s ‘Play Week’.

Unity preview- night on the playa
Unity preview- night on the Playa
Unity preview- sunset on the playa
Unity preview- sunrise on the Playa


Understanding the Self; Carl Jung and the Mandala

“A sign is always less than the thing it points to, and a symbol is always more than we can understand at first sight”
Carl Jung, [1]

Carl Jung (1875-1971), the psychoanalyst who developed many original theories still respected today, was intrigued by the idea of the self and the subconscious.

Jung believed one would be able to access emotions and ideas which had been repressed or that one had been unaware of by drawing a mandala, which he had encountered whilst studying eastern religions.  It is believed that drawing mandalas reaches an aspect of our subconscious, reveals our central focus and leads to individuation.

Carl Jung's first mandala
Carl Jung’s first mandala [2]
The Mandala

The mandala originated in India, developing through the teachings of Buddhism.  In Buddhism, by drawing the mandala and being fully focused on the task, one seeks to understand one’s inner-self and brings oneself closer to a higher being.  Any mistakes indicate that complete attention was not given, and one must start again to gain complete understanding.

Mandalas are also present in Hinduism, however they are more purely geometric, with limited images of divinity and ‘iconographical representation’ (Tucci, 1961).

It is interesting to consider the spiritual and religious origins of the mandala, to attempt to understand its construction from a sacred perspective.  However, my own mandalas will not seek to replicate this religious spirituality, for any attempt would be a clear and particularly incongruous cultural appropriation.  This exercise seeks to explore how the mandala form (and on a broader scale, the circle), can represent inner self as a route to self expression.

Utilising the knowledge of Giuseppe Tucci, I have sought to analyse a mandala according to the theories outlined in his book “The Theory and Practice of the Mandala”.  Tucci (1894-1984) was an Italian scholar, specialising in Buddhist studies and Tibet.

“In a general way, it may be said that a mandala contains an outer enclosure and one or more concentric circles which, in their turn, enclose the figure of a square cut by transversal lines.  These start from the centre and reach to the four corners so that the surface is divided up into four triangles.  In the centre and in the middle of each triangle five circles contain emblems or figures of divinities.”
Giuseppe Tucci, (1961.)Mandala as a means of reintegration[3]


Traditional Mandala example
Traditional Mandala example, created by Tibetan Monks [4]
 Design origin and development

The symbolic concept of self is explored through an intricate geometric system, developed through theological and psychoanalytical research as demonstrated above.  The below diagrams indicate this geometric system, its origins by identifying the steps of mandala creation and defining a geometric rule to this order.

As explored in the right hand column, the aspects of a traditional mandala can be articulated within the geometric steps.  It is the intention that participants may identify this, but also that they will visualise images, tangible or otherwise, which may unlock an aspect of their innerself; much as a shape in a cloud is identified differently by two individuals.


Symbol and System
Symbol and System


Evolution of form

 Using parametric design to explore 3D extrusions of the mandala net, it became clear that a dome-like, hemi-spherical structure strongly reinforced the ideology behind the design.


Preliminary extrusion iterations
Preliminary extrusion iterations

The Dome

An exercise in exploring the historical and cultural significance of the dome, including the world renowned Pantheon and the Hagia Sofia, demonstrated the religious and political power the dome has the potential to emanate.

Throughout history, domes were built by vastly rich, political figures, using domed structures to show their connection with God and religion and as a means of demonstrating their wealth.

A significant dome structure in London is St Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed by Christopher Wren and completed in 1708.  A visit to the Cathedral confirmed to me the spiritual feelings one experiences when entering such a vast and astonishing place.  The dome is a space of reflection.  At St Paul’s, the eye is immediately drawn upwards to the heavens.  The focus of reflection is clear.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of St Paul’s Cathedral is the perception of the dome from the interior and exterior approach.  The exterior dome extends far higher than the dome perceived from the inside of the cathedral.  The two domes are not a true reflection or impression of each other, and this is something I have aimed to address within the design of the Mandalarium.

St Paul's Cathedral- Dome in plan
St Paul’s Cathedral- Dome in plan
St Paul's Cathedral- Dome in section
St Paul’s Cathedral- Dome in section

The Sun

Aligning the Mandalarium seeks to remove the religious aspects of the dome design but retain the spirituality.

The sun, the origin of all life, is orbited by the earth on a predictable path which has not changed for millennia.  At midday, the art will cast a perfect shadow of itself; its true form is expressed entirely.  But this moment is fleeting.  The shadow dances across the playa, aligning for mere seconds.  Participants who are at the Mandalarium at the ideal time may embrace this moment, just as I hope every participant will truly understand their identity and own path in life; if only for a second.

The Temple- alignment with the sun
The Temple- alignment with the sun


Physical exploration

I constructed a 1:5 scale model of the dome aspect of the design, in order to explore potential construction techniques and the physical properties of my chosen material.  The dome is constructed with 180 pieces of kooboo cane, each soaked in lavender scented water and individually bent to retain a curved shape.  The pieces are then rhythmically positioned in nine layers within the base frame.  As the length of the pieces increase in size, the individual layers become reciprocal, each piece resting on the next.  The subtle lavender scent creates a calming atmosphere when one sits within the structure.

The Mandalarium Model- full model
The Mandalarium Model- full model
The Mandalarium Model- an internal view
The Mandalarium Model- an internal view
The Mandalarium Model- the foot of the cupola
The Mandalarium Model- the foot of the cupola




Sarah Jones

DS10 – We Want to Learn

[1] JUNG.C, (2014) The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings. Routledge, pg 212

[2] JUNG.C, Mandala [Available from: Accessed on 10.12.16

[3] Tucci, G. (2003) The Theory and Practice of the Mandala, Dover Publications Inc. pg 39

[4] Yoo,A. (2014) Tibetan Monks Painstakingly Create Incredible Mandalas Using Millions of Grains of Sand (Available from: [Accessed on 10.12.16]