artworldOut and About
Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Urbanology: The BMW Guggenheim Lab

BMW Guggenheim Lab at First Park

August 3rd to October 16th, 2011
Houston and 2nd Avenue
A New York City Parks Property

BMW Guggenheim Lab.  Exterior view from East First Street. Photo: Paul Warchol
BMW Guggenheim Lab. Exterior view from East First Street. Photo: Paul Warchol

August 3rd marked the activation of an ambitious nine-year Guggenheim Foundation initiative: the BMW Guggenheim Lab, an urban installation aimed to investigate issues of sustainability, adaptability, and comfort in the built environment.  The nine-year project has been divided into three “cycles,” each with a separate advisory committee and commissioned structure.  Beginning in New York’s East Village, cycle one will make stops in Berlin and Mumbai in order to examine the theme of Confronting Comfort.

The lightweight mobile structure currently on view on 1st Street was designed by Tokyo-based collective Atelier Bow-Wow, and is nestled squarely into the surrounding urban landscape.  Built on two levels, the bottom half is left open-air, outfitted with a theatrical rigging system displaying flat-screen monitors and spotlights for evening events.  The upper level is swathed in fiber mesh to conceal additional chairs, lighting and supports, creating what the designers call a “traveling toolbox.”  The compact structure is the first ever to contain an internal framework made entirely of carbon fiber.  It stands at a compact 2,200 feet square and accommodates 300 people.

Guggenheim curators Maria Nicanor and David van der Leer conceived of The Lab, partnering with BMW for what they call a “cultural cooperation.”  The cycle-one advisory committee is composed of prominent designers, policy-makers, and artists who are charged with nominating an interdisciplinary team of emerging educators and activists appointed to design the public programming.  The NYC team has embraced a DIY aesthetic, evidenced by the graffiti-covered brick of the tenement next door and the timber snack shack (catered by beloved Bushwick eatery, Roberta’s) across the street.  Any opulence or luxury associated with the Guggenheim foundation or BMW brand has been ostensibly erased for the installation—formally substantiating the project’s commitment to sustainability and localization.  The partnership worked closely with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation who own the 1st street property.  The once-vacant lot was stabilized and paved for the installation and surrounding sidewalks were replaced.  The project also funded the installation of new wrought-iron gates and fences surrounding the property.

The structure is set to house a series of 100 free interactive programs, video screenings and lectures. A user-activated game entitled Urbanology invites visitors and passerby to build their own city by answering a series of questions that speak to transportation, sustainability, livability, and other urban issues.  Comfort—a theme often associated with domestic space—is brought into the public domain to interrogate the ways in which cities can be most responsive to the needs of a community.  All programs are free and open to the public as well as accessible online at  The following two cycles will be announced at a later date and will each feature a different structure and set of programming.  After the completion of the first cycle, the Guggenheim in New York will exhibit the findings generated by the Mobile Lab.

BMW Guggenheim Lab, New York, August 3 to October 16, 2011.  Photo: Paul Warchol
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