In August 2011, the BMW Guggenheim Lab made its formal debut on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A collaboration between BMW Corporation and the Guggenheim Museum, the lab hopes to redefine and rethink the modern concepts of urban planning and urban design through a series of exhibitions, games, and public events among other items. According to its website, the Lab was “conceived to inspire public discourse in cities around the world,” not only through the physical Lab structure itself, but through the lab’s website, social communities, and various social media outlets.
Everything about the space, structure, and concept of the Lab was designed to bring about new ideas in placemaking and creating the modern city. For example, the Lab’s architecture, designed by Atelier Bow-Wow of Tokyo, creates an open floor plan that can be easily modified depending on the space’s program. Transparent materials help visitors see other programs operating in the space simultaneously, while more classic structures inside the Lab promote the core values of urban planning that shouldn’t be lost. The Lab’s location, a vacant lot sandwiched between two existing residences, promotes the reprogramming of neglected urban space and the importance of creating complete streetwalls.
Inside the Lab, visitors can take part in the many hosted activities and workshops, as well as submit their own ideas for improving the quality of urban life. However, the centerpiece of the Lab is Urbanology: an interactive game in which users become decision-makers to address pressing urban issues and shape their very own cities. The choices visitors make, akin to mayors or urban planners, deal with hot-button issues such as education, improving infrastructure, mobility, and housing. The cities they create as a result of their choices reflect the players’ values, often mimicking existing cities and sometimes creating new ones in the process.
Overall, the Lab brings up many different issues of how a society values, treats, and seeks to improve the quality of urban life. Additional online resources such as the Lab Log fuel even more ideas and comparisons by using existing case studies in vastly different cities (New York and Mumbai, for example) to show how they both tackle similar issues. In the end, the Lab hopes that during its time in New York, as well as the other cities it will visit, it will provoke much needed discussion of how to improve urban life, and bring about new ideas from the people who know their own cities best: the residents. How would you start to change your own city, and which issues would you value as most important?
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is located on Houston St and 2nd Ave in New York City. The Lab will run until October 16, 2011.