The Japanese architectural firm Atelier Bow-Wow was selected to design the BMW Guggenheim Lab. The firm is talented in creating structures in dense urban contexts. Co-principal of Atelier Bow-Wow, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, or “Yoshi” as he refers to himself spoke at the Lab on September 8, 2011. Yoshi had a warm demeanor and spoke about his design approach and considerations for the Lab. Yoshi was asked to design a “non iconic building” and “public space that was easy to get into.” Yoshi understands “micro-public space” and eventually came up with the concept for the Lab to be a “theater space.” This type of space would allow for the different programming needs, activities, and interactions that would occur within it. Yoshi wanted to better understand theater space so he visited a few to investigate more. He met with different theater companies and conversed with various individuals who work at them to gain perspective on the matter. He wanted to understand how to change the scene within a space. Yoshi’s original idea was for the Lab was an “exhibition space.” However, the design architect concluded that given the functionality of the Lab, if you create a theater space you have scenes, “the scene is totally different and gives a strong animation. It keeps attention and communication.”
A new building material for construction, carbon fiber, was used to fabricate the structure, providing a light and open feel to the space. Another notable material is the double mesh fabric that serves as the skin of the structure. It is white on the interior and black on the exterior. Yoshi commented that the mesh is “effected by the wind, always changing” providing a constant change. Metaphorically, this can represent the constant change and the reinvention cities undergo.
Another dominant theme that emerged in Yoshi’s lecture is how “behavior” influences his design. His studio’s work seeks to understand behavior and how design can accommodate it. When refereeing to the Lab, Yoshi stated, “this space is full of behavior.” Yoshi then expanded on the concept saying that each “behavior has its own time scale. And that now is a time to “bring architecture close to the people.”
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile structure that facilitates discussions on addressing the issues of contemporary urban life. The Lab has a holistic purpose. The BMW Guggenheim Lab website states that it is for the “exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately creation of forward thinking solutions for the city.” With the continual migration of people across the globe to urban centers, the Lab’s creation comes to life at an opportune time to rethink and reevaluate urban life today.
There will eventually be three distinct labs that operate for two years each in three cities for a total of six years and 9 cities. Each lab will feature unique programming. The theme for Cycle 1 is Confronting Comfort. Once programming finishes in NY on October 16, 2011 the BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to Berlin and then to Mumbai. Conclusion of Cycle 1 will occur in the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013. The BMW Guggenheim lab seeks to “inspire public discourse in cities around the world.” The BMW Guggenheim Lab has its own micro website and online communities that help contribute to this dialogue.
The Lab has created a positive neighborhood impact. As a former abandoned lot, site remediation was performed along with contemporary thought and has been transformed into a communal gathering space. One resident in the neighborhood I spoke to was very glad about the lot improvements and the effect it has had on decreasing the ill effects of living next to an abandoned lot. Below are some questions presented to Jonathan JJ Nakano, a resident of the neighborhood who lives next to the Lab.
Q. What was the lot like before the Lab?
A. It was a rat infested lot. Although the chain link fence was decorated with painted wooden rats that looked like they were made by children.
Q. What changes have you witnessed or experienced in the neighborhood as a result of the Lab?
A. Less rats. The block seems cleaner, longer, and more open.
Q. There are many events on an ongoing basis, does this bother you?
A. No, I like living in a busy neighborhood, being able to look out my window and see people and walk out of my building into a vibrant atmosphere. I don’t like commuting.
Q. What would you like to have the space become after the Lab leaves?
A. It would be cool to have a changing program of events like they have been doing this summer (yoga, classes, lecturers, etc.)
The BMW Guggenheim Lab encourages awareness about the built environment and the cities we live in. The Lab also served as the location for the commencement of the Institute For Urban Design for NYC’s first Urban Design Week. By working and supporting organizations that seek to improve city life, the BMW Guggenheim Lab has truly provided a space to engage and support local and global communities.
The Game at the BMW Guggenheim Lab
It is commendable to see people actively and socially participating with the “confront” theme of Cycle 1. The Lab is bringing awareness of the current state, condition, and environmental considerations of New York City.
Sometimes, and it almost happens accidentally at the end of a lecture, workshop, or event, the Guggenheim members of the Lab begin asking people to participate in the Urbanology Game. Anyone is invited to answer questions from the Lab. This includes architects, urban planners, developers, students, professionals, passers-byes, residents, tourists, and others who are simply curious of the unique experience the Lab has created. It is a very engaging environment.
The Lab is quite attractive during the Game time at the Lab. On a checkered floor sit five mobile glass towers (corresponding to a -6 to + 6 scoring scale) that represent “affordability”, “livability”, “sustainability”, “transportation” and “wealth”: emerging issues of contemporary urban life.
The Game consists of ten challenging questions aimed to stimulate and figure out possible forward-thinking ideas for the future of our cities. Before anyone gives a definite answer, a debate opens among the people playing the game and it can become a rather intense discussion, depending on the nature of the question. Grey areas and indecisiveness about coming up with an answer are forbidden and at the end of the debate, eventually only “yes” or “no” are the only possible responses.
In the end of the Game you get a final score that represents the hypothetical city you have built through the ten questions, and the hypothetical city is part of the wider classification that compares to other real cities worldwide.
The Game is a simple and straightforward way to “Confront Comfort”. Through this interactive device people are invited to question / ask themselves about urban themes they may have never thought about, and in the comfort of others they are pushed to make a personal opinion, to agree or disagree, and most importantly to give reasons for their thinking. This makes players – and people – aware that “your city may be the future of our cities.”
Below are some questions from the Game. The game can also be played online on the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s website.
Will you impose an ‘air conditioner’ tax to fund sustainable energy research?
A philanthropist wants to open a free charter school in an underserved inner-city area built on tp of the area’s largest park. Will you allow it?
Will you exempt bookstores from paying property taxes?
Will you raise the minimum wage for people working through the night?
You know the week for a planned attack on City Hall but not the day. It mat kill thousands but closing down for a week is costly. Will you close down?
A major sport franchise is considering a move to the city, but you have to pay for the stadium. Will you do it?
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is located at Houston St at 2nd Ave, New York City.