Rod Garrett, the man responsible for laying out Black Rock City's iconic horseshoe of whacky art and self-expression, died last week at the age of 76. Although the original burn on Baker Beach back in 1986 never required any sort of master plan, Garrett's services were necessary when the growing desert festival was first held on private land in 1997. The New York Times obituary explains:
That meant that officials of Washoe County had jurisdiction over what was built. County commissioners, who reportedly called the Burners “human locusts,” demanded to see plans.
But there had never been any plans. So Will Roger, a Burning Man founder, turned to Mr. Garrett, his close friend and a Bay Area resident who had been working as a landscape designer for more than 30 years.
“I’d had quite a lot of experience with planning and building departments and dealing with cities and counties, at least more than they had,” Mr. Garrett said of Burning Man’s organizers in the 2010 interview. “They were in trouble, and I helped.”
In addition to laying Black Rock City's system of neighborhoods and public spaces centered on the big, flammable man in the center, Garrett also designed a new, temporary Center Camp structure every year.
Yves Béhar, a design professor at California College of the Arts and a 5-year veteran of the Playa himself, described Mr. Garrett as "a genius", explaining, "A circular temporary city plan built around the spectacle of art, music and dance: I wish all cities had such a spirit of utopia by being built around human interaction, community and participation." Rod's Road, a path circling Center Camp, is named for the city's designer.