3D Printing Industry speaks to Burning Man temple architect Arthur Mamou-Mani

Every year, the Burning Man gathering (its organizers insist it is not a festival) takes place at Black Rock City, a temporary tent metropolis in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Among its attractions are a central temple, which is ritually burnt like the eponymous “Man” at the end of the festival.

2018 will see a French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani design the “Galaxia” temple, which will take the form of twenty spiraling timber trusses converging on a center that holds a 3D printed mandala, a nod to the shape of the Milky Way galaxy.

Mamou-Mani, a lecturer at the University of Westminster and the owner of the Fab.Pub digital fabrication laboratory in East London, spoke to 3D printing industry about the use of 3D software, 3D printing and robotics in the design and realization of the Galaxia temple.

Isaac Asimov, the spiritual, and the technological

The name Galaxia is a reference to a project to bring every human in the galaxy together as a part of a single “organism” with behavior similar to that of robots. It is concept key to the science fiction novel “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov.

It was the “I, Robot” theme of this year’s Burning Man that inspired Mamou-Mani to come up with the Galaxia temple design to the Burning Man organizing committee, having produced award-winning sculptures for previous Burning Man gatherings.

Speaking to the Reno Gazette Journal, Mamou-Mani explained the thought process behind the Galaxia temple design. “There are some things that are paradoxical between this age of artificial intelligence and the Temple, which is a very spiritual, human thing, but we’re all one system. When it comes to the Temple, we all feel connected,” Mamou-Mani said. 

While the Burning Man is no stranger to 3D printing, it is especially fitting that the design and fabrication of this year’s secular-spiritual Galaxia temple, a physical and human presence, involves the use of AI, 3D printing, and digital tools.

Arthur Mamou-Mani in his workshop looking at designs developed and 3D printing using Grasshopper 3D software. Photo via Mamou-Mani.
Arthur Mamou-Mani in his workshop looking at designs developed and 3D printing using Grasshopper 3D software. Photo via Mamou-Mani.

Generating Galaxia

To design the Galaxia and mandala, Rhino and Grasshopper 3D will be initially used for parametric modeling. The resulting 3D models will then converted to G-Code using Silkworm, and rendered with Maxwell, Keyshot or Vray.

According to Mamou-Mani, using this 3D software and 3D printers will help realize designs that would otherwise be difficult to envisage. “Thanks to Silkworm, we are able to generate a custom tool-path,” he explained “and therefore print in mid-air and vary the parameters as we print.” He described this as “a kind of ‘parametric 3D printing’ in which the printer’s parameters are part of the design modeling.”

This process has unlocked both creativity and efficiency in 3D printing. “We would accelerate a print when the geometry is more stable and decelerate when it cantilevers too much,” he said.

Manipulating the slicing process is also key to the design. “We have also used varying e-values to under extrude or over extrude in a specific location or do non-planar slices,” Mamou-Mani explained.

“The potential is huge when one is not constrained by the usual slicing process.”

This will be key to the design of the mandala, as “in the case of the central piece we will create a translucent teardrop with a light-scattering lattice in its center to scatter the light and make it glow.”

The 2018 Galaxia temple rendered at nigtht. Image via Mamou-Mani.
The 2018 Galaxia temple rendered at night. Image via Mamou-Mani.

3D printing the paradoxical

“The design is still under development,” Mamou-Mani explained, but when it does finally come to fruition, prototypes of the mandala will be 3D printed at the Fab.Pub using a WASP4070 3D printer, while the final design will be fabricated on a WASP3MT at the Generator, a space in Reno, Nevada owned by Burning Man.

The mandala will be 3D printed using Excelfil PLA filaments, a bioplastic material produced by the German-Taiwanese company Voltivo. “It has a special silk-like finish which I really like and that will contrast from the filigree timber of the roof structure itself,” Mamou-Mani said. “We used the same material for the FoodInk and Cloud Capsule projects in London and the 3D printing Pop-Up studio

As for the main timber Galaxia structure, a 1:5 model will be laser cut at the Fab.Pub, and a CNC router will be used to create some of the angled timber pieces of the structure. But 3D printing, automated tools, and AI may yet play a greater role in the fabrication of the Galaxia.

“Apart from a CNC and a 3D printer, we are keen to develop the use the Polibot for the structure, it is a cable robot that we have developed as part of our installation “The DNA of Making” at ARUP’s HQ” Mamou-Mani explained. “Whether we manage to do so is another question, as this is a robot entirely developed in-house, and it requires a few months of further development.”

The Temple 2018 Galaxia is currently at a fundraising stage.

Robot at Burning Man 2015 Black Rock City. Photo via Burning Man.
Robot at Burning Man 2015 Black Rock City. Photo via Burning Man.

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Featured image shows a Render of the complete Galaxia Temple, with people inside. Image via Mamou-Mani.