BMW Guggenheim Lab, New York

BMW Guggenheim Lab, New York

Studying the challenges of urban life in the world’s most high profile cities is a serious endeavor, too often taken-on in the ivory towers of academia, far removed from the communities that these exercises are meant to improve.

But a new, innovative mobile ’laboratory’ is bringing this dialogue to the street level, first in New York City, where it is providing an invaluable platform for interaction and discussion between citizens, design and planning professionals, educators, and administrators on the theme of Confronting Comfort, which explores how a city can be more responsive to people’s needs.

It’s one part think-tank, one part community centre, one part public forum, launched by two of the world’s most recognizable and credible brands and cultural benefactors, BMW and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, who hope that the information gathered and lessons learned at the lab will eventually benefit cities across the globe.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab covers a lot of ground. Berlin and Mumbai are the next stops on the lab’s nine-city world tour, with subsequent destinations to be determined. The incredible facility itself is a study in innovative architecture, designed by Japanese firm Atelier Bow Wow as a completely self-contained, collapsible environment that can be shipped anywhere in the world and reassembled. But more ambitious than its itinerary, is the lab’s planned program in each of its destinations.

In just over 10 weeks in New York’s East Village, the space will host over 100 free events, ’designed to spark curiosity and interaction’. Everything from public discussions on ’finding the balance between notions of individual and collective comfort’ to public talks by leading architects, innovators and entrepreneurs to ’Urbanology’ a live role-play game that enlists locals as catalysts for change in education, housing and health care institutions to meet the specific needs of their communities. The breadth and depth of the program is impressive, and available in it’s entirety on the BMW Guggenheim Lab website, and will be covered on its dedicated blog and on major social networks as the laboratory travels around the world.

Somehow the entire schedule works perfectly within Atelier Bow Wow’s elegant metal box, which occupies a narrow, block-through parcel and a beautiful public garden space along bustling Houston Street. Sharing the site is a decidedly less innovative, though welcome wooden structure, where beloved Brooklyn restaurant Roberta’s serves the lab’s visitors their famous fare -- and without the schlep to Bushwick.

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