The panel of lab architects Richard S. Chang/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.

With its magnificent name, you’d half expect the BMW Guggenheim Lab to be engineering slickly designed, scientifically advanced domestic goodies, like self-sharpening steak knives and espresso machines that run on voice recognition.

Not quite.

Slotted in an empty lot in the East Village of Manhattan, the Lab is temporary exhibition of sorts, open daily to the public to spark discussion of the future of urban living.

“It’s a mixture between an urban think tank, a community center and a gathering space,” said Maria Nicandor, the assistant curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in a video. Nicandor developed the Lab with David van der Leer, the assistant curator of Architecture and Urban Studies at the Guggenheim.


There is a schedule of ongoing events that are free to the public, including movie screenings, meditation sessions and open forums with the community.

When I visited the Lab recently, there was a game of Urbanology going on. The game reminded me of an audience participation exhibit in science museum. A host surveyed visitors, standing under a giant flat screen, about the importance they put on an issues such as housing, infrastructure and mobility.

For example: “Will you subsidize consumer purchase of electric cars and install charging points around the city?” Sure.

That night, in the same space -- which had been rejiggered slightly to seat more people -- there was a panel discussion with architects from Atelier Bow-Wow, the Japanese firm that designed the Lab’s modular space, and the Dutch architecture firm Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS), a Lab partner.

As a space, the Lab is very bare bones. It doesn’t look like it’s made up of much more than gunmetal gray beams and chain-link fencing. A gray mesh wrap covers the stage lights and electronics, like the rafters of a theater.

Off to the side, Roberta’s -- a noted Brooklyn pizzeria -- has a pop-up location serving an abbreviated menu of salads and sandwiches.

And if there is a goal for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, it would be to help build a better city, which its organizers seem to be taking seriously.

Atelier Bow-Wow said that the role of the architect is to listen to the public and design according to their wishes, not the other way around. And if there is a goal for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, it would be to help build a better city, which its organizers seem to be taking seriously.

At the panel discussion with Atelier Bow-Wow and ZUS one night, van der Leer told the audience they were testing everything, including the presentation format and even the way the seats on stage were placed. “So if it’s really annoying come see me after the event,” he said.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to Berlin next year and then make stops in Asia. Eventually, there will be three Labs traveling to nine cities over the next six years.

BMW Guggenheim Lab runs through October 16 at Houston Street and Second Avenue in New York City.

For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c




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