BMW Guggenheim Lab: Confronting Comfort

Urbanology | Copyright 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Today marks the launch of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a partnership between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, BMW, a team of curators and consultants, and the public. This participatory and generative “mobile laboratory,” now open in the East Village at Houston Street and 2nd Avenue, aims to be a catalyst for “the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for city life.” In the planned investigations and explorations of the spaces, systems, structures, culture and people that are the city, the project recognizes that the wellbeing of citizens is inseparable from the wellbeing of the built environment.

The Lab will be based in the East Village from August 3 — October 16, 2011. Over the next two years, it will make its way from the United States to Europe and Asia, during phase one of a “six-year migration” around the world. The space is envisioned as a “traveling toolbox” in which the architecture acts as a frame for a series of interdisciplinary urban investigations. In this phase, the mobile structure has been designed by Japanese team Atelier Bow-Wow, a Tokyo-based firm known for urban residential and “micro public space” design.

Confronting Comfort,” the theme of the first two-year cycle, will explore both individual and collective comfort in the context of environmental and social responsibility. To address the theme, Guggenheim curators Maria Nicanor and David van der Leer and an international advisory committee assembled a Lab Team of experts working across a range of fields — an environmental justice activist and cooperative developer, a journalist and “urban experimentalist,” a microbiologist and inventor, and two architects — to concoct a program of conversations and events that will transform the Lab space into a public forum.

Olatunbosun Obayami, microbiologist and founder of Bio Applications Initiative; Elma van Boxel and Kristian Korean of architecture and urban design firm ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles]Charles Montgomery, writer on happiness and climate change; and Omar Freilla, environmental justice activist and founder of Green Workers Cooperatives, collaborated to create an itinerary of lectures, debates, screenings and workshops that question how individuals and institutions can create comfort in the city, and how that comfort will enhance the lives of city dwellers. From there they will venture out into the city to accrue data on how people use urban space and infrastructure, to gain crucial understanding of both the physical and emotional needs of their citizens, and to expose private and public sites in New York City where our comfort has led to complacency.

Urban Omnibus recently had a chance to speak with one of the Guggenheim curators and all four members of Lab Team New York. Click on the images below to read more about issues of “segrification,” hedonistic utility, and how the city operates like a living microbe. Caitlin Blanchfield


Maria Nicanor
“This is a lab, an experiment. It’s about the process. It’s about awareness and about getting people to think about the city in new ways.”

Omar Freilla | Copyright 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Omar Freilla
“We have a game at the Lab, Urbanology, that’s kind of a mix between Red Light, Green Light, 1, 2, 3 and civics class. It gets people to rethink what their priorities are for the city, and what the city’s priorities should be.”

Charles Montgomery | Copyright 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Charles Montgomery
“We want to map out the emotional landscape of public space in Lower Manhattan, to learn how design influences the emotional experience of the city. The answers might help city builders design systems that are not just more efficient, but happier.”

Olatunbosun Obayomi | Copyright 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Olatunbosun Obayomi
“A city is like a living microbe. It operates as a combination of systems (transportation, sewer, governance) coming together to aid movement and production. In science, a microorganism also combines various systems (cell walls, mitochondria, plasma) to move and produce.”

ZUS | Copyright 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
ZUS: Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman
“Acupunctural ‘green’ infrastructure is a good start, but the real challenge in this city is to equally distribute wealth and health within its territory. This demands a political infrastructure in which global and local parties and institutions are equally represented.”

All photos © 2011 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

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