the skyscaper at the edge of town


This is Babylon, the 10-story steel tower that was built in four days at the far edge of Black Rock City. I have complicated feelings about this piece. On the face of it, it’s so un-Burning Man. It’s a union job, no DPW crew involved, and … it’s STEEL. True, there are lots of different materials used for art pieces, but this one seems a very radical departure.

One thing seems sure, though. It’s going to be a hell of a place to party. Ten stories, plenty of space to hang out, great views, and videos of the people inside broadcast outside on the side of the structure. Pretty damn amazing.

Let’s look at it as a new piece of furniture; give it a couple of days to see where it fits in.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

9 thoughts on “the skyscaper at the edge of town

  • My first reaction to the comment that its a “Union job” was one of disgust, but then as I thought about this years theme of “the American Dream” I realized that Unions are exemplary (at least in origin) of the American Dream in that they represent the uprising of the common working man to stand against the “Man”. Still its kinda an odd, default world construct to be represented on the playa?! I can understand the complexity of your feelings about this one.

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  • For what its worth, Art is what we make it. The people who create art are what make it
    so very fascinating. Art is why I go to the Burn. Unfortunately I can’t be there this year
    so I am relying on other peoples art (images) to get my fix. Keep up the good work!!

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  • When you think of the theme, American Dream, a ten story skyscraper is extremely appropriate. Chicago in the 1890s saw the birth of the modern skyscraper, when a note Chicago archtect was gazing at his wife’s steel birdcage, noting how a steel framework offered a lot of strength for a lot of distance “up”, for a minimum of material. Masonry buildings at that time were limited to only three to four stories.

    Sure, the construction “on site” may well be “outsiders”, but for anything so tall, it takes true, experienced expertise. Any of the rebar in use in Black Rock City was certainly not “forged at home” by anyone…that is a “union-made” material, as are all the vehicles transporting people to Black Rock City. So simply consider the use of “union people” and cranes, to build a “skyscraper” (and what a lovely sky to “scrape”… like a single artistic brushmark on a vast canvas) only an efficient extension of the vast expertise of America en total that makes Burning Man possible.

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  • A Frenchman once made a tower that changed the way we think about the possibilities of Steel. Was it art?

    When I saw the Tower of Babylon on the edge of the Playa I was skeptical. I see this form so often. The frame against the sky, how mundane!
    What I found there was something awesome. Crafted from every day building materials that we think we “know”, this modular representation of our reach for greatness, transforms the known into limitless possibility. While modular building and flexible design are mainstays of the Modern Architectural movement, the possibilities of this tower (it’s ability to be moved and reconfigured) are inspirational.

    The expression of the American strive for greatness and success is sometimes seen as contrary to the ethos of Burning Man. Here, at the Tower of Babylon, greatness and success are borne on the wings of an Engineering feat worthy of attention. For me, the tower represents a desire for achievement which is a fundamental part of the American Dream. It embodies the idea that we can take what we see around us and reinvent our own world. America was once called “The New World”. Perhaps, if we work hard, if we change the way we look at things, if we take the things we think we “know” and turn them into something new, America will once again become “A New World”.

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  • What happened to the videos the guy at the top of the tower took? There was a guy interviewing people in front of a camcorder and promised to post videos on a web site and email all interviewees. Has anyone seen this?

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