Thursday, September 20, 2012

Burning Man 2012 - Zonotopia and the Two Trees

Zonotopia and the Two Trees glowing under the full moon
(photo by Joe Azure)

2012 was our fourth year to bring the Zomes of Zonotopia to Black Rock City. And it was our largest and most ambitious design to date. Whereas in 2011 we had three Zomes, this year there were five Zomes forming a pentagonal courtyard around the Two Trees.

 The evening of Wednesday, August 29th 2012 we managed to get to the Artery just in time to get the last Art placement of the day.

As the sun sets shortly after our placement the base hubs of the Two Trees sit on the playa like giant tinker toys. Let the unloading of the truck begin!

Day 1

On the next morning, Thursday, I'm doing my best impression of a motivational speaker. It was already very hot and dusty. Luckily I have the best build crew on the playa.

 This year, Surrender, the High Priestess of Zonotopia, cared for the crew by cooking us delicious, healthy meals with food grown in her garden.

 We began by building the base ring of each Zome.

 It didn't take long to see what kind of weather we were in for.

 Once the base rings of the Zomes were build I directed their final placement.

 A little to the left...back to the right....perfect!

 Once the positioning was finalized the crew broke up into groups and all the Zomes began springing up at once.

 In many ways our infrastructure took a great leap forward this year...a lift gate! We're never going back.

 As the Zomes get assembled we begin constructing the Two Trees. Many of these parts were meeting each other for the first time.

 Yeah, we rock like that!

 Even MadDog stopped by to do some constructive crushing.

 Earl, master builder, showing us how it's done.

 Dust, what dust!?

 The original Bodhisattva Zome graces the playa for the fourth consecutive year.

 One by one all twenty of the 11' tall pedestal parts lock into their slot.

 Everything is looking very good. But will the top hubs fit and function as planned?

 Sometimes Zome building is a spectator sport.

 By late afternoon all the Zomes were finishing up and both of the Tree pedestal base structures were complete.

Day 2

 On Friday morning we eat breakfast between the Two Trees. That's the assembly table from my shop. It is the anvil upon which every Zome I've ever made has been forged.

 Food from the Algarden...with bacon!

 It was a magical and beautiful experience to camp and build on the playa.

 As usual, Sergio garnishes extra style points.

 Annie aka Little Birdie placed the summit star onto the Zonotopia Zome! Yay!

 Moment of truth...and the hubs fit!
And perfectly at that!

 Everyone got to take a turn "standing" atop the pedestal.

 Star Tiger and Sunshine take a turn surfing the Star Ship.

 Lizzie Strata sees a future in Zome based burlesque.

 And then Surrender, the High Priestess of Zonotopia shows us all how it's done.

 Alex gets the honor of inserting the core support shaft.

It's still Day 2. Jeff and I build as high as we can reach before the boom lift arrives tomorrow.

 From here on up we knew it would work as all of these parts had been pre-assembled in the studio. This is the most sophisticated four valence connector system I've yet designed and it performed like a dream.

Day 3

 Amazing sunrise over the Temple on Saturday. Even though we left the Bay Area 16 hours late we've made great progress and we are on schedule. One more night camping on the playa. Tomorrow is Sunday and that's when we are supposed to be done.

 And every morning Val taught yoga...funny thing though, this is the only pose I ever saw them do.

Audacity, the Zonotopia project manager, explores her hydration options.
 I thank the Sun, the Moon and the Earth itself for good coffee!

 Our boom lift arrived! And Jay the same operator we had last year is driving!

Many of us get to go up and participate in the assembly of the Tree from the boom lift.

Meanwhile the Gold Tree is being constructed from the scaffolding.

 Jeff Starr in the Zome.

 Audacity and PacMan take a turn.

 To finish the top of the Silver Tree sub structure Patricia comes up and we do it together.

 We did it! On the afternoon of the third day all of the primary sub-structures are complete. 

It was three years prior to the day more or less that Patricia and I built the Bodhisattva Zome out in the deep playa...the spark that ignited this flame.

And they already looked so beautiful no one wanted to cover them.

 A major milestone was reached; one worthy of a celebratory break!

 And a team photo! Long live Zonotopia!

 And lunch!

Happy Zonotopians! Stephanie, Megan and Soleil.

 Sergio, Jay and Rob.

 There is still work to be done. The trees need to be skinned and the electrical needs to be put into place. We need to be done and gone from the playa by this time tomorrow.

 The trencher came to help with our electrical grid.

And some trenching was done old school.

 All of the LED light domes were installed into the panels onsite and ready to be attached to the trees.

Day 4

 Sunrise on Sunday, weather-wise this was to be one of our more epic days.

 I, Zomadicus Robustus aka "Rob", test reclining under the Tree for the first time.

 Some touch up painting prior to hooking up the internal lighting.


 One panel was left off for access. Little Birdie and I entered the orifice to hook up the lighting.

 ...and a dust storm starts up..a strong one. We ultimately had to abort this attempt for safety and try again with more success later.

 The Two Trees lite for a brief period during the day when they first came on.

And Finally Done!

 Here we see the setting Sun illuminating the sky as we inaugurate Zonotopia during our fourth annual Zome party Wednesday evening with our camp hosts Mission Country Club. 
(photo by Jay Hubler)

 Each of the five Zomes had it's own RGB color shifting chauvet which gave the impression of being lit by fire from within. These beautiful Zome lighting effects designed by Zonotopian Stephanie.

 And as each of the Two Trees shifted thru the color spectrum the effect was otherworldly and magical.

Painted white and gold, each of the Trees were full ten frequency polar zonohedra sitting atop 11' tall pedestals. At the center of each of the rhombic panels were individually addressed LEDs. 

 By day Zonotopia rose from the playa like an oasis in the desert.

One of the new Zomes with slumbering Zonotopian inside.

This year, two new Zomes made their Burning Man debut. They are referred to as the Twins since except for color they are identical. One is yellow and one is white and while they've together been built over a half dozen times they've never been put together the same way twice. This time we mixed the yellow and white panels up to illustrate the helical nature of the rhombic bands, called zones. That's the "zone" in zonohedron.

 The Gold Tree of Zonotopia

While the Gold Tree looked stunning and was well appreciated by everyone it was heartbreaking that shortly before leaving San Francisco I decided to reduce the design from the spectacular mirrored double helical polar zonohedron to a smaller, simpler single polar zonohedron design. This was a tough call, especially since 99% of the parts required to fulfill the original design existed and were ready to go, and so much work had gone into it, but it was the right call. The components which didn't properly make the deadline were structurally critical and didn't meet my standards required to complete the original design safely. The good news is that, like the Zomes, the Trees are designed  to be built and rebuilt many we didn't burn next time soon, at a festival near you! ;-)

The Silver Tree of Zonotopia

The Silver Tree rose to it's full glory from the playa. As is to be expected with anything never built in it's entirety before there were a few gotchas but none were irrecoverable. In the end it was majestic, beautiful and proud; a fine manifestation of the vision. The exterior panel system which we hadn't had time to test worked wonderfully. The lighting was beautiful and at times the reclining seating was 100% filled with people.

 This is Zonotopia and the Two Trees.

 The Zonotopia Crew 2012

 To Stephanie Miller for her lighting design, fortitude and sheer stamina and to Earl for his friendship and mad skills with tools, Thank you, both.

 To Megan and Sergio, for being wellsprings of love and positivity. Thank you!

 To Jesse and Soleil, for all your love, support and infectious silly behavior. Thank you!

 To Alex, for believing in the dream. Thank you and see you in Thunderdome!

 To Jeff and Val, in addition to your never ending supply of beverages and vitamins, Thank you for being awesome, solid and strong. Thank you both.

 Thanks goes out to the breakdown crew. Zonotopians Tanya and Jesper. And to Tanya for her mad shop skillz on the table router. Thank you!

And also on the breakdown crew Zonotopian Willow. I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you!

 To Audrey and Ian, For all of your help before the beginning and up to the end. Thank you!

To Annie for the many hours in the studio of precision cutting and crimping wiring so that the LED lights worked. Stellar job, Thank you!

And to Patricia, the High Priestess of Zonotopia for caring for all of us with love and thoughtfulness, Thank you!

Thank you all!

-Rob Bell

 zome mani padme zome

Special Thanks to:

all my good friends at

LED lighting support from

the support of