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uilding the Temple—which many consider the heart of Black Rock City at Burning Man—is no easy feat. With over 50,000 screws, 10 carefully loaded trucks , and many, many spreadsheets, “It’s the world’s most giant puzzle,” 2024 lead Temple artist Caroline Ghosn said.

While a single artist’s Temple design is selected each year, bringing to fruition a 70-foot-tall, 94-foot-in-diameter temporary structure for 80,000 people to safely pass through can certainly not be done alone.

Caroline Ghosn in front of her 2022 piece, “Disturb my Slumber.” Photo: Ben Henretig.

Ghosn, who had applied for the grant last year unsuccessfully, was ecstatic when she heard she would be receiving it this year—before the enormity of the project that lay before her sunk in.

“You’re like, ‘Oh my God, how is this gonna happen?’” Ghosn said, “It’s a 70-foot-tall building that needs to be built in five months with volunteers.” 

A rendering of the Temple of Together, courtesy of Caroline Ghosn.

A tradition of collaboration

The Temple has a vast network of volunteers in place ready to organize around the lead artist and ensure that their vision is realized in time for the Burn. Often, past lead artists, including David Best who created the original Temple in 2000, help guide the current artist along the way in a beautiful process of collaboration and community.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Ghosn said, “there’s a legacy that we’re building on as a community.”

Volunteers work on the Temple at The Loom in Oakland. Photo: Michael Fox

Last year’s co-lead artists Ela Madej and Reed Finlay quickly called Ghosn to offer their support, which assuaged her nerves—a bit. “You’re OK. We know exactly how you feel,” Madej and Findlay told Ghosn. “We were here last year. It’s going to come together. People are going to show up.”

Still, Ghosn couldn’t fully fathom how such a massive undertaking could possibly come together. “My first week I was trying to figure it all out mentally, and you just can’t,” she said. “That was a lesson I learned very quickly; an ego can’t build a Temple. One person can’t do it.” 

A volunteer named Sarah works on the Temple at The Loom in Oakland. Photo: Michael Fox 

Her only choice was to dive in and surrender to the process. Exactly as Madej and Findlay had said, people started showing up. Within the first week, Ghosn said, 350 people filled out the volunteer form, each offering skills and resources they could contribute, from social media to graphic design to woodworking, construction management and planning.

“People really just start showing up. It’s insane,” Ghosn said, “They’re like, ‘How can I help?’ ‘I’m really good at woodworking.’ ‘I’m a truck driver.’ ‘I’m really good at cutting panels.’”

A volunteer named Yash works on the Temple at The Loom in Oakland. Photo: Michael Fox

Being part of the Temple build is a bit like being a cell in an organism: the project has a life of its own beyond what any one person could control or handle, and yet each person’s contribution is necessary to reaching the end goal, which is of course the Temple’s successful installation on the playa. After the design process and initial build at the Loom, a massive warehouse space in Oakland, the Temple will be transported in meticulously organized pieces to Reno, then assembled on the playa three weeks before Burning Man. The Temple of Together is a fitting name—it literally could not be built any other way than together, through the collective power of community effort. 

“You start to trust the creative flow,” Ghosn said. “Then everybody steps into it, and this insane thing happens where you’re all riding this wave together. I’ve never had an experience like this before.” 

Volunteers work on the Temple at The Loom in Oakland. Photo: Michael Fox

Ghosn and her main Temple crew are building continuously on weekdays, and on the weekends they are open to volunteers. “Basically anybody can come in and help build during the weekend,” Ghosn said. We constantly have teams of people working on different things.”  The textile team is creating hundreds of prayer pillows for people to sit and meditate on inside the central space, which people can even take home as a keepsake. Ghosn herself was planning on working on testing out different natural dyes like turmeric and coffee. “We all pop in and do whatever we need to do just to keep things moving,” she said.

A space for reflection

The front gate of the neo-Gothic and Art Deco-inspired Temple of Together is formed by the familiar shape of two hands joining together in prayer. “When my hands come together in prayer they make an arch,” Ghosn said. “So the arch became the central motif for the design language of the entire structure.”

That universal symbol of hands in prayer seemed to speak to Ghosn’s overarching themes of unity, self-reflection, connection and presence. Implicit in the Temple’s design is an invitation for participants to accept themselves and bring every part of who they are into the sanctuary space.

A rendering of the Temple of Together’s interior, courtesy of Caroline Ghosn.

“The second thing that happens when the two hands come together in the front of the Temple, is light emerges,” Ghosn said. “The entire building from the bottom of the altar all the way up to the spiral 70 feet above the ground is one giant tower of light. The metaphor is that there’s such power when you join in with all parts of yourself.”

The main consideration for Ghosn when designing the Temple was the experiences she wanted to facilitate for participants inside the space. She designed the Temple from the inside out, beginning with the central altar—the main spiritual gathering space. As an introvert herself, it was important for Ghosn to include some more secluded areas in theTemple for people like her who may need a moment away from people. Appended onto the central chamber are several semi-private chapels where people can find a bit more solitude. Outside, bench seating can accommodate about 50 people. Ghosn said they’ll allow visitors a good view of the playa and also serve as seating for a Black Rock Philharmonic performance.

“You can choose your own adventure based on how you’re feeling and how your nervous system is doing,” Ghosn said. “I designed those experiences with what people might need in mind.”

Ghosn works in a variety of mediums, including large-scale public art, filmmaking, and performing art. The unifying thread through all of her work is her exploration of the full spectrum of the human experience, especially the edges that make us uncomfortable that we shy away from, like darkness and grief.

At a time of global conflict and widespread collective and individual grief, Ghosn wanted to create a safe, welcoming, nondenominational spiritual place where people can acknowledge and experience their grief.

“We don’t have a practice in the West right now—that I’m aware of—that’s effective for handling grief,” Ghosn said. “I think it’s a huge loss. Because we’ve been self-organizing in communities for thousands of years and we’ve always had practices around grief that provide support. Temple is a way of reclaiming that.”

Participants may mourn and honor loved ones they may have lost, find solace and healing, experience joy, sadness, gratitude, or whatever emotion they need to move through in that moment.

“First and foremost, what we hope to create with the Temple is an atmosphere of love and safety,” Ghosn said. “Over a thousand hands will build the Temple. So my most sincere hope is that when someone walks in, they can feel the collective love and intention and energy of the people who built this. Then whatever happens to them in that moment is perfect.”

Burning Man runs from Sunday, Aug. 25 through Monday, Sept. 2.

You can donate to the Temple of Together, explore volunteer opportunities, or learn more at the project’s website.

Cover image—Caroline Ghosn, left, and volunteers work on the Temple at The Loom in Oakland. Photo: Michael Fox

This article was funded by a generous grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Max Stone

Max Stone is a poet and writer from Reno. He played soccer at Queens College in New York City before returning to Reno to earn his MFA in poetry and BA in English with a minor in book arts from the University of Nevada, Reno.