The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile concept that has inhabited two different architectures. Both of them were exemplars of lightness and mobility. Each was architecturally adapted to the locations where it was temporarily resident. Educators describe flexibility, adaptability, and mobility as 21st Century skills that we need to develop in our children. This is architecture that has clearly learned those skills.
“The BMW Guggenheim Lab was a mobile laboratory about urban life that began as a co-initiative of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the BMW Group. From 2011 to 2014, the Lab traveled to New York, Berlin, and Mumbai. Part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space, the Lab’s goal was the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking visions and projects for city life. Through the lens of the themes Confronting Comfort, Making, and Privacy and Public Space, this global project explored how people relate to cities and public space today.”
The New York and Berlin labs used the same structure, a lightweight carbon-fiber rectangular frame wrapped in a semi-transparent mesh. The entire structure was elevated so that it functioned as a canopy housing a variety of high-tech “tools” that could be lowered or raised for the various programs staged by the Lab. The Mumbai lab was made largely of bamboo, and was set up in a variety of locations.
The initial installation, in New York, seems to have dictated, or at least defined, the size and shape. It was initially slipped neatly into a narrow slot between two buildings in lower Manhattan, near 2nd Ave., spanning from Houston Street to 1st Street, where the East Village meets the Lower East Side. The lab transformed this empty corridor into a location, the open-ended space beneath it becoming alternately lecture hall, workshop, gathering space, etc.
The lightness of the structure, and its appearance of lightness, are essential elements of its success. Had it seemed heavy, it would have made the New York installation feel like a trap between two buildings, where visitors might at any moment be crushed under this enormous stone. Instead, the minimal structure and mesh sides give it a comforting appearance of floating and sheltering.
The Berlin lab was located in Prenzlauer Berg in the Pfefferberg complex, a small open plaza where the lab took on a much more free-standing appearance.
The lab was designed by Atelier Bow-Wow, Tokyo, Japan, and had local architectural and engineering firms working with them in each of the travelling installations. Structural Engineer: Arup, Tokyo. Superstructure and Installation by NUSSLI Group, Switzerland/USA.
images via bmwguggenheimlab.org except as noted