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At Burning Man, architecture is art

In his new book "Black Rock City, NV: The Ephemeral Architecture of Burning Man," photographer Philippe Glade shows just how stylish--and functional--many of the attendee-created structures at the annual arts event can be.

A beautiful example of a Burning Man shade structure, as photographed by longtime Burner Philippe Glade.
NV: The Ephemeral Architecture of Burning Man,Philippe Glade/Black Rock City

I've been going to Burning Man for many years, and each time I've struggled to figure out a good way to make a home in the desert that's shaded, ventilated, stylish, and comfortable.

Over the years, I've tried nearly everything: tent, carport, dome, truck, RV, van, and combinations of all of the above. And I've even finally gotten to the point of making a space that I feel proud calling my living room. People come to visit, there's room for plenty of seating, and if someone wants to make dinner, they can do it. At the end of the evening, there's a place to sleep, and privacy is an option.

This is CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman's humble, but comfortable attempt at good Burning Man living. It's hard to make a great home in the remote, hot desert, but a new book shows that even in the Black Rock Desert in the heart of summer, some people can make art out of architecture. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

But after reading Philippe Glade's new book, "Black Rock City, NV: The Ephemeral Architecture of Burning Man," I realize that I'm an amateur when it comes to stylish dwellings and structures on the playa.

Glade is a peculiar kind of Burner. Since 1996, he's been photographing structures all around the event. And where most attendees spend their time wandering around looking at art, he says he walks the streets of Black Rock City--the name for the urban Burning Man environment that encircles the art-filled open desert--looking for the most interesting architecture.

And with his book, he proves he's found it, and wants to share it with us. That means 112 pages of beautiful photography, mainly of buildings and structures, but also of some selected art pieces. So, there's wonderful depictions of domes, tension structures, wooden buildings, fabric-covered tents, Hexayurts, Parachute shade structures, and much more.

Unfortunately, though a book like this has been needed for a long time, Glade chose to create his own publishing company and put the book out himself. I don't know if this is because he couldn't find another publisher, or if he just wanted total control over the project, but it's a shame because the final result shows the hiccups that come with trying to do too much on your own: There's typos throughout, and the writing that goes with the lovely photographs often misses the mark. Glade had an opportunity to provide a wealth of information about the architecture he was highlighting, but too often, he leaves the reader with just enough to know they want more.

Still, the imagery can speak for itself, and Glade is clearly a talented photographer. Those who have been to Burning Man will enjoy leafing through the book and recognizing projects they've seen themselves, and non-Burners will likely find themselves astounded at the ingenuity that Burning Man attendees have demonstrated over the years in making life truly civilized in one of the most remote desert locations in North America.