French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is pioneering a new direction in temporary architecture, employing cutting-edge digital technology, and radical new perspectives on shared space. He is the architect behind Galaxia, an immense, spiraling, 3D-printed wooden temple at Burning Man in 2018, which was as widely shared across design and architecture sites as it was between festival goers. London-based Mamou-Mani is at the forefront of a new breed of pop-up, digital-fabrication-led architecture with a focus on festivals and public spaces. Having studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the Architectural Association in London, Mamou-Mani then worked with Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid before starting his own firm, Mamou-Mani Architects. He also teaches at the University of Westminster and takes his students to Burning Man annually, viewing it as a laboratory for new digital fabrication techniques and experimental pop-up structures.
Q: What is it that interests you about temporary architecture?
I think architects are slowly questioning the idea of a building. Often people say what I do is not buildings—but then you realize that a building doesn’t have to be permanent to be a space that brings people together. In the age of internet, we want experiences that bring people out of their homes. And temporary events and festivals are actually doing that. They’re bringing people to events that are unique and that last a very short time.
Q: Do you think we’re seeing a return to more artisanal methods?
Yeah, there is a return to craft. I think this is partially due, strangely enough, to robotics. The fact that we brought the making closer to the designing through digital tools, like digital fabrication, 3D printing, and robotics, has brought us closer to the act of making. Often as architects, we send it to someone that will build for you. But things like festivals and the use of these machines have brought us back to being makers. I think that’s great because it means that we learn how to assemble things or to design better. Design was often a concept that was a bit separated from the physical object, strangely enough, but it shouldn’t be. Design became associated with very theoretical, abstract concepts. You know, “I’m a designer.” It came loaded with ego, and I think that it’s very humbling to build things, because materials don’t listen. The machines you use don’t listen. They do their thing; they have their own behavior. I think it’s our duty to listen and to learn and stop thinking we know everything.
Q: What is it about the present moment that is drawing people to festivals?
There’s a lot of disconnection between the body and what we see. It’s a digital age, and the internet is a beautiful way of connecting with people, but also it disconnects us from other people and from the physical world. So, people are looking for holistic experiences where they can share a sense of place with other people—like you have at festivals. They bring people together and give that sense of togetherness. So if anything, they are the perfect remedy for the online age.
Q: Where do you see this process headed?
I think there’s a desire to create gatherings and to transmit rituals and feel part of something together. It’s going to happen increasingly and it’s going to break a lot of boundaries. As religion dissipates and contemporary science and this sort of cynicism take over, we rediscover why we’re doing this. Festival culture will bring a lot of depth to things that might have been in the shadow before we partied together. Maybe there’s something deeper to that. Maybe one day we’ll look back and think, “Ah, actually this was much more important than we thought.” Just as we look back at Stonehenge or cathedrals. With the burning of Notre-Dame, for example, we realize that we really connect deeply with these things. And the way Stonehenge was specifically targeted towards one moment of the year, and this connection to the sun—there’s this link between architecture and the elements. As architects, these are things we can learn from. And as a community, we could reinvent rituals that help us understand each other.
Part creative residency, part cultural exchange, part immersive hospitality experiment, Further brings together artists, writers, scientists, artisans, farmers, designers and other place-makers.
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