Tower of Babel
Investigating the very nature (be it the structure or the purpose) of a participating piece for Burning Man 2009. Called “Babel” and it has pretty much everything to do with the original masterpiece that was lost throughout the centuries….if it ever existed in the first place.

The Tower of Babel (in Hebrew: Migdal Bavel , according to the Book of Genesis, was nothing but an enormous tower (it had to have “its top in the heavens”), built in the city of Babylon: a cosmopolitan metropolis of its time (very NY-like), typified by a confusion of languages, also called “the beginning” of Nimrod’s Kingdom. Yet not for the worship and praise of God, but instead, dedicated to the glory of man.

Well, the story is pretty much known to everyone, be it a believer, a Christian, a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or then again not. And it explains the origin of nations, of their languages, and of Babylon itself. But mainly, it displays the competition between God and humans, as wells as Lord's resulting contempt for human pride.

But this one right here and right now, is not about religious beliefs or the book of books, but a recent project that Brandin Roat, Sergio Ramirez and Timothy Leung have worked on, as a participating piece for Burning Man 2009. This too is called Babel. 

Yet this very Babel of our time, is not a group or an organisation, no, not even a social order. It is once again to its purest roots a single tower, built as the manifestation of the original belief that we as human should strive for the very best and achieve the yet to be imagined. And its 2009 builters, a bunch of deliberate and conscious designers and craftsmen of different background and different nationality, are actually some sort of pioneers, that are not afraid –be it by hybris, or by the original biblical story and end of Babylon, to push and test the limit by transcending boundaries created by men. But also to reveal the temporality of structure and acceptance of time as a countdown to inevitable demise.

As for the structure, a functional, rational and versatile product - in its purest pursuit of perfection- it is engineered to withstand in difficult condition.

Furthermore, the beautiful hexagon geometry was introduced to improve stability from wind forces and horizontal movement. The shape makes the efficient use of space and building materials real, actually very similar to the cells of a beehive honeycomb. Strategically, by juxtaposing each level, vertical and horizontal loads can be evenly distributed. And the tension rods act in favor to its tensile strength to further secure the structure.  

Shipping pallet is readily available, yet it is built with the most efficiency: tough enough and able to withstand great deal of compression, while light can be automatically be transported by just one person. The small fill-in wood blocks strengthen the pallets, while providing more area for connection.  

As a result of this architectural attempt, the very nature of the tower performs almost like an air chamber, encouraging vertical ventilation throughout -as cross ventilation run through- the adjacent window openings. Beside that, modular geometry of each pallet creates opportunity for stepping. So, it functions as a single entity while each floor -or each unit- is divided and differentiated by windows, constructed with various recycled materials.  

Slitter of sunlight scans along as one climbs up the structure, until it reaches the deck level and experiences the majestic view of the Black Rock Desert, where it is actually built now, more than 30 feet above ground.

But you simply have got to see the tower in the night, when it turns into a lounge, dramatized by illuminating red lights and glowing stars.

Wanna bet? Maybe if the biblical tower looked alike, so perfect in form and function, yet simple and almost pure, it wouldn’t have resulted God’s contempt for the human race. Maybe it would have remained at its position in Babylon until now. Opps. Or was that very last sentence a hybris? Hm. Even if so.

About the architects
  • Brandin Roat, 25, Sacramento raised with a degree from Calpoly, San Luis Obispo, currently working at BRR Architecture, San Francisco.
  • Sergio Ramirez, 27, was born and raised in San Francisco and received a bachelors of architecture at CalPoly San Luis Obispo in 2008. He practices as a freelance designer involved in the wide spectrum between graphic design and hands-on construction. He is interested in the sublime--turning pragmatism on its head, reinventing common and recycled materials to blur boundaries between, sustainability, sculpture, and architecture.
  • Timothy Leung, 25, grew up in Hong Kong S.A.R. and moved to the states for his higher education. He received his Bachelors of Architecture at CalPoly San Luis Obispo in 2008 and practiced Architecture briefly in Hong Kong. He plans to continue his work in becoming a more sensible, conscious designer in New York City. He is passionate in exploring and reinventing through mixed media and innovative construction methods.


13 photos and 5 drawings

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator