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Burning Man diagram

Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada

Since the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, thousands of people all over the world have been journeying to music festivals every year. In part influenced by electronic music hitting the mainstage and the commercialization of underground rave culture at the turn of the millennium, festivals have become one of the fastest growing getaways for young adults. And while some large festivals are located in cities, others take place in sparsely populated, rural areas. The figure-ground diagrams shown here represent four such festivals, largely built overnight, where attendees leave their permanent dwellings to take part in these impermanent communities.

To meet the sudden influx of thousands of temporary inhabitants, these rurally located festivals are equipped with bathrooms, showers, food vendors, medical aids, security, bars, Wi-Fi, and sometimes even airports — infrastructure found in modern day cities. And like our cities, each festival site is designed and affected by specific constraints. Features such as polo fields, farm irrigation, sun patterns, and forest groves shape their patterns and typologies. Even without knowing it, each festivalgoer becomes part of a larger, densified, urban community. The way these communities are designed not only affects the experience of each inhabitant, but also the way they interact with one another.

People attend these festivals for a variety of reasons — most importantly music, art, entertainment, and self-expression —but also for a sense of community, escape, and pleasure. Is there something these festivals provide that our cities lack? What can designers learn from these impermanent cities of music?

Sasquatch! Music Festival

George, Washington
25,000 attendees over four days

Sasquatch is situated along the picturesque Columbia River. Located on farmland, the “bull’s-eye” shaped camping area follows a pattern created by the center pivot irrigation system that waters the land year round.

Sasquatch Music Festival diagram

Sasquatch detail

Burning Man

Black Rock City, Nevada
70,000 attendees over nine days

Burning Man takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. When populated, “Black Rock City” becomes Nevada’s fifth largest city. Organized around solar movement, the site’s “streets” are named after times of day (2 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Unlike other festivals, Burning Man’s music stages are created by attendees and dispersed around camping sites rather than distinct music zones.

Burning Man diagram

Burning Man detail


Happy Valley, Oregon
3,500 attendees over three days

Pickathon is located 40 minutes outside of Portland at Pendarvis Farm, and Pickathoners camp under large tree canopies on a rolling hillside. Some music stages are inside the forest canopy, but most are on open farmland.

Pickathon diagram

Pickathon detail


Indio, California
99,000 attendees over three days

A fast growing festival, Coachella takes place in the California desert at the pristine Empire Polo Club. Camping areas take on the fields’ large, rectangular shapes, while tents and cars occupy roads that filter into a street leading to the entrance.

Coachella diagram

Coachella detail