the Temple rises

There’s a giant structure being built at the far end of the playa. It’s somewhat  reminiscent of  last year’s Megatropolis,  in that it looms so large on the landscape, and how it aspires to scrape the sky.

And the comparison is doubly apt, because many of the  people who brought you Megatropolis are working on this new giant, the Temple of Transition.  An international crew, headed by Kiwi, the thoughtful New Zealand firebrand,  has been bivouacked in Reno for months, putting together the pieces that could be put together in advance.

The crew includes other New Zealanders, who spent large sums of money just to make it here, and a fair contingent of  folks from the rest of the world — Irish, English, more New Zealanders, — even a New Yorker or two. And there are also a fair number of hard-driving locals from Reno and Tahoe. It’s a powerful mix.

So there are familiar faces toiling in the dust and heat, but maybe what links the Temple of Transition to Megatroplis most directly is its ambition.

“The noble Brutus hath told you that Ceasar was an ambitious man; if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caeser paid …”

The central tower of the Temple will soar 120 above the desert floor. It’s being constructed in levels, and eventually five will be lifted on top of each other and then secured into place to form the centerpiece of what feels like a Temple village.

Three exterior ramps will lead to a viewing stand on the main tower that will be about 20 feet above the ground. The idea is that you will move across the Temple space slowly and contemplatively, fitting for a creation meant to explore the theme of transition.

It’s hard to predict  what kind of  mood this bigness will create.   There’s a chance, although we’d say it’s quite small, that there will be echoes of that brute of Burning Man 2008, Babylon. Also known as the Tower of Babel, its sheer size called attention to itself and little else, overwhelming everything in its vicinity.

But even as the component parts of the Temple of Transition are being assembled and stacked into place, there is already a profound sense of religiosity and silence about the piece. The curved archways, repeated everywhere, are reminiscent of every church or large sacred space you’ve ever entered, but that holiness has a decidedly nondenominational nature.

If all goes according to plan, this Temple will become the largest temporary wooden structure ever constructed. (At least, that’s how it’s being billed; I don’t know how to verify that, and if you do, please share.)

But no matter what its final size and wherever it may rank in superlatives, there is  a wide-eyed energy and enthusiasm permeating this Temple and the people building it.

Steve is a grade school teacher from New Zealand who made his first trip to Burning Man in 2008. He’s got a family, a mortgage and bills to pay. And yet he’s back here, working hard, and taken with the effort.

“I said to myself, if I ever come back here, I want to build one of those!” he said between the  pounding and the measuring. And so this year he did. Steve’s a veteran of several  Kiwi burns, and when he got the call from the Kiwi who leads the Temple team, he found a way to make it happen.

Steve, who teaches primary school in New Zealand.

About this year’s theme, he said, “There are so many human emotions — love, hate, anger … but sadness, sadness seems to strike a common note. When so many people, collectively, are feeling the same thing, you get a harmonic resonance, and we seem to be able to share our humanity.”

We don’t know that we make the same association between sadness and transition, but we certainly know that change often brings grief, and we know that collective grieving is a powerfully unifying force. And that it offers solace. And if you’ve ever been to the Temple on the day it burns, or you intend to go there for the first time this year, you’ll feel that tug of grief in your throat, in your watery eyes, and deep in your heart.

Kiwi, the leader of the Temple of Transition project.


Construction has continued well into the night.


Meal times for the Temple crew.


Most everyone takes a break at lunchtime.


The setting sun illuminates one of the Temple's many curved archways.


Kiwi and Chaos, the head of Heavy Machinery, talk about the progress of the work.


When the Temple opens, people will leave messages, books, pictures and other items about people and things they wish to remember. But the very first tag was lighthearted.


The exterior surfaces will be covered with intracately carved wooden pieces.
There are many long hot days in the sun for Kiwi.


The top segment of the central tower, which will rise 120 feet high.


Gargoyles will also be put in place on the Temple's exterior.


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.

11 thoughts on “the Temple rises

  • It looks like everything is going good. Wish HS was still giving you shade. Thanx for the pics. See you all soon. HS is pretty lonley. Need a good family party at HS after burn.

    Sus Spence
    Cucina Linda

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  • The Rites Of Passage theme would not make sense without a temple, and the vastness of this year’s structure is a beautiful metaphor of the vastness that we face after losing a loved one. Seeing the Temple of Transition in person is a personal pilgrimage for me, to honor my brother, and to hit life’s reset button. Much gratitude and thanks to Kiwi and the entire crew involved for bringing this project to life. Amazing!!!

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  • WOW!!! I can’t wait to stand in there! And in 7 days I will :)
    Whatever happened to David Best? I met him in 2002, my first year on the playa and he was very sweet.

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