Skip to main content

The BMW Guggenheim Lab Opens in New York

The inaugural BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile public think tank designed to serve as a temporary community center for a participatory exchange of ideas about the city, opens today (Wednesday, August 3) near the crossroads of Second Avenue and Houston Street. The high-tech modernist structure itself, designed by Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow, is airy, long and structurally lofty, wedged rather uncannily between two tenement structures that front 1st Street to the immediate north. State-of-the-art theatrical lights line the skeletal structure overhead, while sheer white movable tracked curtains function as the walls. These can be pulled and swirled in circles, designed to improvise shifting boundaries among different groups in various modes of conversation and interaction. Flat screens affixed overhead project the agenda and game plan.

BMW Guggenheim Lab
exterior of the lab as seen from the sidewalk on E. Houston Street near Second Avenue


For the next ten weeks, the Lab has scheduled over 100 programs that focus on the idea of urban comfort, inviting members of the public to participate in workshops, hear lectures, attend film screenings, venture to other locations, or to stay and play an interactive game called Urbanology. A core goal is soliciting ideas from individuals as to how they would improve the city. As with any inaugural venture - after New York City the mobile structure will be disassembled and then reassembled for future dates in Berlin and Mumbai - there's some uncertainty as to exactly how this social experiment in urban brainstorming will play out. At first glance, the Lab looks good and the programs intellectually stimulating, but the measure of success, of course, will depend on all of us lab rats.

BMW Guggenheim Lab
members of the press awaiting formal remarks at a preview on Tuesday

Ok, so we're not lab rats, but we are denizens of a complex mega-city, one famous for fostering an opinionated, active, and creative citizenry. Many of us are engaged with the city in one form or another in obvious politicized ways, whether through signing petitions about term limits, fighting encroachment of big universities on the neighborhood, or advocating for more green spaces and bicycle lanes. Many more of us, I suspect, regularly engage the city on more personal and artistic levels - walking a favorite route to work, photographing the sunset over the skyline, or taking pleasures in discovering a new favorite place.

BMW Guggenheim Lab
awaiting the results of a game of Urbanology, created by Local Projects


The zeitgeist now favors the sharing of our personal discoveries and opinions through location-based social media, as exemplified in the many apps and review sites that encourage crowdsourcing the city. So, it should not come as a surprise that the city's cultural institutions should reflect and build on this keen interest. The New Museum's Festival of Ideas for the New City in May, launched on the same day as Guggenheim's announcement of the BMW Guggenheim Lab (see related post on this website), similarly offered lectures and programs. Their street fair gathered together over a hundred organizations that have been working in their own way to improve urban life. In addition, Urban Omnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York, takes on the generation of specific urban change ideas as one of its core missions. (see their 50 Ideas for the New City). The Institute for Urban Design and the Project for Public Places teamed up this year for a public ideas competition, By The City/For the City. And many great urban ideas can be born elsewhere, of course. New Orleans-based artist and urban planner Candy Chang came up with a particularly inspiring project, "I Wish This Was," making fill-in-the-blank stickers for citizens to suggest better uses for abandoned buildings.

BMW Guggenheim Lab
"Your city may be the future of all cities." - from the game Urbanology


Beyond being a well-funded project with ample resources to rally publicity, the BMW Guggenheim Lab does possess the potential to continue these sorts of conversations with the novelty of its physical lab and an interactive website. The group game designed by Local Projects, Urbanology, while rather artsy on first glance, gradually reveals the important ideological layer implicit in urban planning choices. Answering tough questions about potential tradeoffs in areas of infrastructure, transportation, education, and so forth leads to a smart on-screen correlation between the outcomes and the world cities that have made comparable choices. The lectures kick off today, with a talk at 1 p.m. by BMW Guggenheim Lab Team members Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman of the Rotterdam-based architecture firm ZUS. Upcoming lectures, many focused on the Lab's inaugural theme of comfort, include architect Elizabeth Diller (August 5 at 7 p.m.), I Meditate NY (August 6 at 10 a.m.), Columbia University sociology professor Saskia Sassen (August 12 at 7 p.m.), and David Simon of The Wire and Theme discussing capturing the city on film (August 31 at 7 p.m.)

A walk around the immediate geographical location of the Lab may prove one of the most useful experiments in revealing the outcomes of urban choices - the recently closed Mars Bar, a luxury condo development, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Whole Foods on the Bowery, a gas station, Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery, a subway station, and the old offices of The Catholic Worker, just to name a few of the many local signifiers of a city at the crossroads.


View Location of BMW Guggenheim Lab in a larger map

The Lab is free and open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from August 3, 2011 to October 16, 2011. The game Urbanology is open from 1-5 p.m. on those days. See the official website at bmwguggenheimlab.org for complete schedule of lectures, workshops, screenings, and tours.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from August 2, 2011. More images in this set on Flickr WOTBA.









Popular posts from this blog

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.* Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries. At MoMA I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I wou

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors.  New landscaping in Battery Park At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr