What Is the Lab?
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile laboratory traveling to nine major cities worldwide over six years. Led by international, interdisciplinary teams of emerging talents in the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability, the Lab addresses issues of contemporary urban life through programs and public discourse. Its goal is the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for city life.
Over the Lab’s six-year migration, there will be three distinct mobile structures and thematic cycles. Each structure will be designed by a different architect, and each will travel to three cities around the globe. The theme of the Lab’s first two-year cycle is Confronting Comfort—exploring notions of individual and collective comfort and the urgent need for environmental and social responsibility.
The BMW Guggenheim Lab launched in New York, running from August 3 to October 16, 2011. It is currently in transit to Berlin, where it will be open from May 24 to July 29, 2012, before moving on to Mumbai in late 2012. Cycle 1 will conclude with an exhibition presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2013. Two additional two-year cycles will follow, each with a new mobile structure and theme, concluding in the fall of 2016.
Part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space, the Lab is conceived to inspire public discourse in cities around the world and through the BMW Guggenheim Lab website and online social communities.
The public is invited to attend and to participate in free programs and experiments at the Lab. In addition, the BMW Guggenheim Lab website and social communities provide opportunities for participants around the world to engage with and to contribute to the ideas and experiments generated by the Lab.
See videos and photos of the Lab in New York http://www.bmwguggenheimlab.org/multimedia
Play Urbanology online and create your future city http://www.bmwguggenheimlab.org/urbanology-online
Where is the Lab?
The Lab is in transit to Berlin, where it will be open from May 24 to July 29, 2012.
After a dynamic ten-week run from August 3 to October 16, 2011, in one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods—the edge of the Lower East Side and East Village—the mobile laboratory is now temporarily closed and en route to the second stop on its nine-city world tour. Berlin, an international hub of culture, politics, media, and science, promises ample opportunity for urban analysis and new ideas as the Lab’s next destination. Please stay tuned for announcements about the Lab’s Berlin launch. From Berlin, the Lab will continue east to Mumbai, where it will conclude its first two-year cycle under the theme of Confronting Comfort.
Check in online as we travel to nine distinctive cities and see how particular cultures, conditions, and daily rituals alter solutions and recommendations specific to a location. Be part of the global project—on-site when the Lab reopens and online in the meantime—by continuing the thought-provoking conversations underway about urban living and well-being in cities.
The theme for the first two-year cycle of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is Confronting Comfort. In New York, Berlin, and Mumbai, the Lab will explore how urban environments can be made more responsive to people’s needs, how people can feel more at ease in urban environments, and how to find a balance between notions of modern comfort and the urgent need for environmental and social responsibility.
We live in a highly globalized and urbanized world. Yet complex urban landscapes that are increasingly intertwined through transnational and informational networks continue to be based on rigid systems of urban planning, architecture, and infrastructure. These systems have fostered an expanding homogeneity that puts at risk the relationship of our cities and urban areas with the specific conditions of their immediate context and their own past. More important, it puts at risk our relationship, as citizens and individuals, with the urban environment, affecting our sense of ownership and awareness of the space around us, and our sense that we should be able to change and improve it.
As a result, we have constructed relentless systems of consumerist comfort that alleviate the monotony of these static landscapes by blocking interaction with our surroundings. The comfort we derive from these solutions—which range from communication commodities to fancy gadgets, to privacy and security devices, to comfort food and other ways to appease our bodies—diverts the mind from the repetitive processes of everyday life in cities that at times we feel we have no possibility of changing.
Maximizing comfort has not only allowed us to cope with sometimes grueling urban conditions, but it has also become a measure of individual wealth, success, and status. Unfortunately, our irrepressible human aspiration to find ease often leads us in unsustainable directions. How can we find a balance between notions of modern comfort and the urgent need for environmentally responsible solutions that empower us as social individuals? If we were to achieve such balance through creative solutions, how would our understanding of comfort change? How would we respond to the newfound ease attained through responsible means?
The potential for new systems of urban living raises a variety of questions, among them: Can architecture and adequate urban infrastructures promote, enhance, and develop personal and collective growth at a physical and intellectual level, specifically by encouraging involvement with urban systems? And how can comfort be customized geographically, without the imposition of homogenous systems throughout the globe? What would responsible comfort mean in zones with different economic, social, and environmental conditions?
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is shaped by a diverse and international group of individuals, ranging from architects and graphic designers to the eminent Advisory Committee and talented Lab Team members.
Vision Statements from the Advisory Committee
Lightweight and compact, with a structural skeleton built of carbon fiber, the mobile structure for the first cycle of the BMW Guggenheim Lab has been designed by the Tokyo architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow as a “travelling toolbox.
The structure’s lower half is a present-day version of the Mediterranean loggia, an open space that can easily be configured to accommodate the Lab’s various programs. The upper part of the structure houses a flexible rigging system and is wrapped in a semitransparent mesh. Through this external skin, visitors are able to catch glimpses of the extensive apparatus of “tools” that may be lowered or raised from the canopy according to the Lab’s programming needs, transforming the ground space into a formal lecture setting, a stage for a celebratory gathering, or a workshop with tables for hands-on experiments.
A series of smaller wooden shelters placed in close proximity to the main structure provide space for restrooms and a cafe. Whereas the main structure is forward-looking in its materiality and highly urban in its programmatic approach, the design of the restrooms and cafe references timeless timber construction that has been used in many settings, both rural and urban. Together, the wooden shelters and the main structure form a temporary 21st-century ensemble that in each city frames a particular urban void.
Dynamic Connections: An interview with Rachel Smith
The Lab Team in Berlin will have an overarching theme of making and doing—empowering everyday citizens to create and improve their own cities. Within this theme, Lab Team members have each chosen a special focus based on their skill sets and backgrounds.
Sustainable and active transportation planner Rachel Smith will focus on Dynamic Connections—how active transportation, place-making, and community-based interventions can improve all aspects of the city system.
This is the last in a series of four interviews with Lab Team members to provide a sneak peek of what we can expect from their programming in Berlin. Be sure to check out my previous interviews with co-curator Maria Nicanor about the overall programming structure in Berlin, and Lab Team members José Gómez-Márquez, Corinne Rose, and Carlo Ratti.
Let’s first talk about your main topic, Dynamic Connections. What does this mean, exactly and how do you hope to explore it at the Lab?
Dynamic Connections is about sustainable transportation: mostly walking and cycling, and also place making. It’s looking at community creative self-solving and behavior change in urban places, how mobility and place making can effect our lifestyles, and how self-solving and behavior-change interventions can be used to change our urban spaces and urban lifestyles.…
I took my inspiration from the natural disasters that we have had in Australia, starting with the bushfires in Melbourne two years ago; and then the Brisbane floods, which is where I live, that happened in January and affected everyone that lives in the city in one way or another; and also the cyclone that happened in Cairns about a week after the floods.
The flooding was a great example of how a natural disaster was occurring and the community got together and self-solved the problems, or the cleanup and the recovery, themselves.… It just shows that people are really good at self-solving but that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity very often to self-solve our own problems.
How do Dynamic Connections fit in with the notion of confronting comfort?
From the cycling side of things it’s looking at how can we make walking and cycling more comfortable and safer for everyone. In terms of place making and self-solving, it’s getting people to think about what kinds of things are less comfortable now, and what we think comfort looks like. What one community thinks comfort looks like might be different to another, so how do we solve our own discomfort? So when you might have a natural disaster or high unemployment, how can we make the urban space more comfortable not just for ourselves, but for everyone else as well?
Compared to the other team members, you work on a very large, infrastructural scale in the city. How will this fit in with the focus of the other Lab Team members?
I guess looking at walking and cycling would be citywide, but it all kind of interlinks. So we might have, say, a program on hacking your bike, and it all kind of links in together really nicely actually, looking at that macro and micro scale. You have to look at the whole as well as the smaller parts. So you might live in a neighborhood, but the things that are controlled by the city, or initiatives that are across the whole of Berlin, also affect your neighborhood as well.
How does the DIY focus of the Lab Team in Berlin work when we’re talking transportation? Where does the individual come in?
Across the four of us we have the theme that we make and do, not just talk. So I guess take something like cycling. Just as an example, we might have a workshop where we take the planners from different districts from Berlin and involve them in planning new infrastructure or better cycling facilities. But then we might also work with communities and individuals to empower them in a workshop to create bicycle businesses or mobile businesses. So I guess there’s that kind of higher level, and then there are the things that individuals can do as well, and linking the two.
People only change their behavior when they see a value in it for themselves. Somewhere like Berlin has quite a high bicycle mode share, but there’s an aspiration that they’d like to be the Copenhagen of Germany. If people are engaged and they’ve helped plan what their city looks like, then they’ve got more ownership and they’re empowered to not just change their own behavior but to encourage other people to change their behavior as well.
Can you describe how you hope to interact with the public at the Lab? What do you see their role as?
We want people to come and learn, and to make and to do, and to also get involved in fun events. The fun events are good ways for people to spread the word to others. And with the talks, when we hear about what other people are doing then we get excited and enthused about it and we want to imitate that behavior. We’re more likely to have conversations with other people, and those people then are the messengers in the community helping to make the change that people aspire to see.
We learn by doing things. As you do something with other people you’re learning, and then the change will be easy because you’ve done it with other people, so you’ve got the confidence to say to someone, “Oh, well you can go and do this.” So it’s kind of engaging the people at the core of the issue.
Can you think of three words to describe the process of working on this project so far?
Amazing. I’ve never ever worked on a project where we’ve been given free rein to do whatever we want, and that is an honor, to be able to be involved with something like that. I work for a consultancy, so every project has limitations and constraints and boundaries and barriers, and a list of things you can’t do. So to work on a project where you can just do whatever you want is amazing. Sorry, I’ve given you about thirty words. Maybe you can try to find three words to describe that!