Prototyping with the LAGI 2020 Teams at Fly Ranch

The Land Art Generator Initiative
Beyond Burning Man
Published in
6 min readJul 22, 2022

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Four years ago, the Land Art Generator Initiative co-founders visited Fly Ranch for a weekend campout. The campout sparked an idea and relationships that brought together LAGI, Fly Ranch, and Burning Man Project. Two years later, the Land Art Generator Initiative and Burning Man Project partnered to hold a multi-disciplinary design challenge-LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch-to create the foundational infrastructure for that beautiful remote landscape. The LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch Design Brief invited interdisciplinary teams of artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and scientists to propose works of art in the landscape that, in addition to their beauty and the transformational experiences they provide, also function to generate infrastructural contributions under one or more of the following five systems: power, water, food, shelter, and the regeneration of waste streams.

The SEED team gathers in a teardrop-shaped sunken rain garden that was constructed using natural local materials.
The SEED team celebrates their second successful prototyping project at Fly Ranch along with a community of volunteers and other artist teams. The result is a protected food forest and community gathering space constructed entirely from material found on site. Photo by Melissa Cliver.
An aerial rendering of the original SEED proposal shows the long term vision of the team to create earth-bermed shelters, protected food forests and a central gathering space with natural ventilation.
SEED symbiotic coevolution by Samantha Katz, Woody Nitibhon, Henry O’Donnell, Samantha Katz, Lola Lafia, Eric Baczuk, John Hilmes, Max Schwitalla, and Colin O’Donnell uses solar photovoltaic, geothermal heat, passive cooling, composting, greenhouses, aquaponics, biodigesters, and greywater recycling to contribute climate controlled shelter, exhibit and event spaces, soil nutrients, and sustainable agricultural products. A submission to LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch. You can follow the progress at the project’s Instagram page.

Maps & Overview

The top ten teams were given honoraria grants from Burning Man Project to build a functional prototype. Beginning last year and continuing over the next few years, the teams will explore the feasibility of their proposals and adapt their artistic concepts based on their experiences of the site. As prototyping begins, the layout of this massive landscape for regenerative art is coming together through close coordination between the teams, Fly Ranch volunteers, and LAGI 2020 technical advisors and jurors.

The top map above is from the design guidelines that teams relied on when they made their proposals. Below that is a project map that shows where each team has placed their project as of one year ago. Since then, through conversations, site visits, and research some teams have shifted their desired placement. For the next year and a half, teams will explore and test prototypes. As with other aspects of Fly Ranch, this will be an emergent and collaborative process. The Fly Ranch team will work with LAGI teams, advisors, regulators, and other partners to explore the best approaches for permits, zoning, and water use.

A sample rammed earth wall section. You can see ochre and tan colors in layers taken from different parts of the Fly Ranch site.
The Source team — Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz (Tamaga Studio) — used local earth sourced around Fly Ranch to test the rammed earth construction technique they will use to build their regenerative artwork at Fly Ranch. They achieved the structural performance and the color striations they were looking for.
Rendering of the proposal submitted to the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch design challenge shows a woman on the right walking towards a spiral-shaped rammed earth wall as a man on the left peeks through a viewport to see the protected orchard inside.
The Source by Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz (Tamaga Studio) uses solar photovoltaic, battery energy storage, water harvesting and cistern, rammed-earth thermal mass, fruit trees, fruit walls, and composting to contribute 250 kg of food per year, 2.2 MWh of electricity per year, 9,000 liters of water per year, habitat enhancement, environmental education venue, and soil replenishment. A submission to LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch. You can follow their progress on the Tamaga Studio Instagram page.

Fly Ranch LAGI Campout

During the last couple weeks of May, 2022, Fly Ranch hosted the latest LAGI prototyping camp in the beautifully unique landscape of Northern Nevada. The weather was great (much cooler than last July’s prototyping camp) and the skies were clear most days until the rains came quite dramatically on the final weekend. After experiences with smoke, wildfires, heat waves, and other climate emergency related issues, Fly Ranch has chosen to primarily focus on May as a viable time to gather.

The irrigation pipe lets water out into a circular ditch of willow tree plantings (about 1/4 of it is seen in the frame). The Granite Range mountains can be seen in the background.
Newly planted willow trees at Ripple.
Ripple by Matthew Lagomarsino, William Jacob Mast, Israel Orellana, Pierre-Yves Bertholet, Xiaojin Ren, Bas Kools, Scherwyn Udwadia, Edgar Oscar Ruiz, and Melika Tabrizi uses passive energy systems including electrochromic glass, bio-ceramic domes (Geoship), seed bank, solar photovoltaic, cistern and drip irrigation, composting toilets, and native restoration plants to contribute shelter, food, medicinal herbs and teas, habitat enhancement, water harvesting, 36 MWh of electricity per year, and 40,000 liters of harvested water per year. A submission to LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch. Follow the project on their website.

Not all of the top ten teams were able to make it but the teams that were represented included SEED symbiotic coevolution, Ripple, The Source, Coyote Mountain, The Loop, Mountains of Water, Solar Mountain, along with shortlisted teams Made from Dust, and Starship.

Photo shot with a drone camera. Below is the layout of the future LOOP artwork delineated with tall wooden poles. In the middle is an artesian well and pooled water above and to the left.
The site of The Loop at Fly Ranch as seen from the above.
An aerial perspective of The Loop (rendering). The spiraling shape is about 6 meters high, a few meters wide, and has gardens on the top of the wall and arched openings at key locations. At the top is a round building with arched openings seen foreshortened by perspective.
The Loop — How pee and poo creates a Regeneration Service Station by Mathias Gullbrandson, Anna Johansson, Per Dahlgren, Julia Andersson, and Olle Bjerkås uses dehydration toilets, handwashing station, straw bale construction, solar photovoltaic, natural water filtration, hydroponic greenhouse, composting, and rainwater harvesting to contribute 1.5 million liters of irrigation water per year, fertilizer, fruit trees, and vegetables. A submission to LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch.

In between soaking trips in the hot springs, delicious meals prepared by the Flying Monkeys, and nature walks organized by the incredibly knowledgeable Fly Ranch Volunteer Coordinator Erika Wesnousky, Friends of the Black Rock High Rock, and other Fly Ranch Guardians, here are cob bricks being formed at the site of the SEED project at Fly Ranch:

A hand pats down the mixture of local soil, water, and straw into a wooden mold to create a cob brick. It will later be left to dry in the sun.

LAGI Project Progress Beyond Fly Ranch

It was a delight to see the LAGI 2020 teams helping each other out, sharing information and lessons learned. Long-time residents of Gerlach offered guidance to those less familiar with the terrain and climate of Northern Nevada. Field trips off into the adjacent foothills of the Granite Range and the surrounding dry lake beds provided inspiration, natural beauty, and a connection to the 15,000 year history of the place. Fly Ranch is on occupied Numu (Northern Paiute) and Newe (Western Shoshone) land. At least four distinct Numu tribes have direct ties to the area. There is more we can learn and do to support Indigenous peoples, address settler colonialism within our culture, and support direct action.

Three people holding a ceremonial golden shovel next to an about-to-be-planted sapling to mark the beginning of the installation of an ethnobotanical garden for the Pyramid Lake Museum in Northern Nevada.
The golden shovel breaks ground at the new Pyramid Lake Museum ethnobotanical garden.
Inside at the MIT Gallery with the exhibition of the “Lodgers” and a full-scale mockup of the thatched roofing technique.
In the Architecture Isn’t Just for Humans Anymore exhibition at the Wiesner Student Art Gallery, at MIT from March 31 — April 29, 2022, the Lodgers artist team, Zhicheng Xu and Mengqi Moon He demonstrated the construction techniques that will be employed in their installation at Fly Ranch.
Architectural rendering of “Lodgers” showing three organic forms on the right made from local grasses. The one in the middle is taller and reaches for the sky to provide nesting habitat for birds. On the left a deer walks toward the edge of the frame.
Lodgers: Serendipity in the Fly Ranch Wilderness by Zhicheng Xu and Mengqi Moon brings together composting toilets, reclaimed timber waste, traditional thatching methods using local materials, computational script-generated parametric design, and native species shelters to provide an environmental education venue, soil replenishment, sustainable waste management, and habitat enrichment for Fly Ranch. A submission to LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch.

The Lodgers team was not able to make it out to Nevada, but they recently put together an exhibition, “ Architecture Isn’t Just for Humans Anymore,” at the MIT Wiesner Student Art Gallery highlighting their top-ranked LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch design proposal and demonstrating some full-scale prototypes of their construction methods.

Aerial photograph looking down on the large teardrop shaped excavation where trees are being planted to create a protected food forest.
The site of SEED as seen from above during excavation.

For more information about the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch artworks, see the website where you’ll find the history and aspirations of the project in text and video along with the design guidelines and the supplemental materials about the site that were provided to the design teams. You can jump right to the shortlisted proposals here.

Luis Philippsen holds the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch book open to the pages about his project while four others look on, listening to him and smiling.
Luis Philippsen, the artist behind Made from Dust, a LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch shortlisted project, talks about how his wood ash bricks naturally absorb carbon from the atmosphere over their life cycle. Photo by Melissa Cliver.

LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch Book

You can also pick up a copy of “ Land Art of the 21st Century” which goes into more detail about the importance of the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch project in the context of climate change, the circular economy, and the future sustainability of Burning Man Project. For a summary of the book, see a review in The Art Newspaper, which concluded:

Hopefully, Land Art of the 21st Century will inspire action on the climate and ecological emergencies worldwide. The methodologies and design philosophies employed by real-world regenerative structures can be copied. But the real value of these land art installations will be that they embody collective, sustainable and inclusive principles. It is through the creation of new ways of organising our societies that we will discover the wisdom to live together in harmony with our home planet.

Mercedes Martinez holds the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch book over her head, open to the page about “The Loop.” Around her are ten others with many more outside the picture frame. Tall poles mark the boundary of the project to help visualize what it will look like when built.
While experiencing the future site of The Loop installation, Mercedes Martinez, Burning Man Project Board Member, holds up an image of Solar Mountain, which will be located nearby.

Photo Gallery

Below are some more photographs from the week’s events and a few aerial videos that will give you a feel for the scale of the site. We’re looking forward to the next time we can get back to Fly Ranch learning from these incredible teams and get our hands dirty again helping to build these important works of regenerative land art for the 21st century!

Newly planted willow trees in a water-filled ditch that curves off to the left. In the distance can be seen the Granite Range mountains.
Newly planted willow trees at Ripple.
Jacob Mast on the left and foreground facing to the right talks as seven or so other listen with many others off frame. Will Roger is prominently standing on the right side of the frame.
A sunrise gathering at the Labyrinth by Crimson Rose and Will Roger.
A funny man in a floppy hat pretends to feed plastic flamingos. In the background is the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch encampment for the May 2022 build week with trailers and tents and a geodesic dome on the left. The Granite Range is in the distance.
LAGI Co-Director, Robert Ferry, tends to the pink flamingos (a pop-up installation by Joe Childs). While flamingos are not a local bird species, their plastic cousins can often be found in Nevada gardens. These fellows seem to be waiting around for the fairy shrimp to come alive.
A test rammed earth wall section is in the foreground, and forms a spiraling line with field rocks to delineate the boundary of “The Source,” one of the top ten LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch projects, showing the space it will occupy once it is built.
The perimeter of the future installation, The Source is plotted in the landscape with small rammed earth “totems” that help to sketch the footprint of the project and grasp its final scale. Photo courtesy of Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz.
A spiral line of  field rocks and test rammed earth sections delineate the boundary of “The Source,” one of the top ten LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch projects, showing the space it will occupy once it is built.
The perimeter of the future installation, The Source is plotted in the landscape with small rammed earth “totems” that help to sketch the footprint of the project and grasp its final scale. Photo courtesy of Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz.
The Ripple team celebrates with their arms up in the air as the irrigation water makes its way to the final newly-planted willow tree. Shouting and hats in the air!
The Ripple team celebrates the successful irrigation of the newly planted willows, a species endemic to Northern Nevada, that will provide wind protection for the project. Photo by Melissa Cliver.
Aerial photo of the SEED site showing the cob bricks drying in the sun surrounded by people working, trailers, cars, and old buildings.
The site of SEED as seen from above during excavation.
Architectural rendering of “Solar Mountain,” a sinuous building clad with solar panels that seems to merge with the mountain skyline in the distance.
Solar Mountain by Nuru Karim, Aditya Jain, Divya Rastogi, and Anuj Modi uses solar photovoltaic, and recycled plywood and aluminum to contribute 300 MWh of electricity per year and interactive spaces for play and exercise. Read more about the project in this post at Interesting Engineering.

Originally published at https://landartgenerator.org on June 15, 2022.

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The Land Art Generator Initiative
Beyond Burning Man

Sustainable energy infrastructure designed as cultural landmarks. Fighting climate change with public art. ~landartgenerator.org~