Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Among the dozens of temporary installations erected at this summer’s weeklong Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, Tangential Dreams—an undulant timber tower designed by French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani—was a celebration of mathematics, teamwork, and free spirit. The climbable 20-foot-high structure comprised a helicoid framework and 1,000 plywood “tangents,” and was designed using a set of algorithmic rules, which Mamou-Mani tested with 3-D models in his London digital-fabrication lab. To realize the project—a winner of one of the festival’s annual arts grants—the architect enlisted students and faculty from his graduate architecture studio at London’s University of Westminster. The crew constructed three modules in a Reno art space before transporting them to the arid site, where they joined the pieces with wooden screws. “The toughest part was assembling in the middle of the desert—we couldn’t go to Walmart for supplies,” says Mamou-Mani. Strong winds and sandstorms posed more obstacles for the team, which worked in shifts to build the 70-mile-per-hour-wind-resistant structure. At night, the tower “became a huge party” as LEDs transformed it into a multicolor beacon of light. In line with Burning Man’s climactic pyrotechnic tradition, the piece became engulfed in a spiraling blaze—“like a 3-D flame”—at the festival’s close.