Behold, the most Burning Man thing ever

A silver blanket the size of your average Walmart? Only at Burning Man.

It’s not just the effigies that burn at Burning Man. Last year, temperatures in the Black Rock desert reached nearly 100 degrees. And so the 70,000 attendees–at least those without posh glamping setups–had to weather the heat with nothing more than water and shade.


The artist Alex Shtanuk has proposed a fascinating, and beautiful, solution to the heat. In an Indiegogo campaign, he’s raising money to create a 107,000-square-foot “NASA” blanket–a blanket made of the thin, vacuumized metal. It has strong, thermal reflective properties that NASA engineered in the 1960s to insulate astronauts traveling through frigid space. You’ve probably seen these silvery blankets on TV, because they have been appropriated by the sports and rescue industries to stabilize body temperatures in times of physical trauma.

The difference in Shtanuk’s blanket is simply that it’s gigantic. With the footprint of your average Walmart, it would be a semi-structural, sculptural work of unbelievable size with an important purpose: The blanket would reflect up to 97% of radiant heat, so people hiding under its rippling waves would be able to chill in a microclimate that’s a few degrees cooler than outside.

To build the blanket, Shtanuk is patchworking together 3,350 NASA blankets with 24 miles worth of tape. The task will require the rental of two indoor soccer fields, and take 20 workers an estimated four eight-hour shifts to complete.

A test of the concept at Archstoyanie, the Russian land-art festival. [Photo: courtesy Alex Shtanuk]
It’s a job of astounding scale, but Shtanuk has some experience building mega blankets. At the Russian land-art festival Archstoyanie, Shtanuk debuted a 100-foot-by-130-foot mylar blanket. ” The blanket looked absolutely alien among fields and trees,” he says. “At the same time, the huge silver object affects people in a very specific way: they start smiling, running on it, interacting with it in all possible ways. Just like children.”

Shtanuk believes his latest project will fit right in with the spirit of Burning Man, while its thermal properties could provide some much-needed chill out time to festival goers. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be caught in the middle of such a gigantic roll of mylar when the wind dies down. Or perhaps, more worrisomely, how bad the sunburn could be if you spent too long playing on The Blanket during the day. “Sure, it is quite bright and functions as a giant solarium,” Shtanuk says. “Anyway, people at the Burning Man wear sunglasses and goggles almost all the time.”


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach