The Oxford Dictionary defines a laboratory as a room or building equipped for scientific experiments, research, or teaching. It has two definitions for “experiment.” First, “a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact,” and second, “a course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the outcome.”
The BMW Guggenheim Lab combined those two definitions. The Lab itself—a place for experiments, research, teaching, and much more—was also the experiment whose outcome was not prescribed, and whose goal was discovery.
The Guggenheim has been associated with bold forays in architecture for decades: when it opened in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright’s museum building in New York set the standard for the institution’s risk-taking designs and daring spaces. The Lab project carried that enterprising spirit outside the galleries and into urban space. When we began the project with our team—from its inception together with my former co-curator David van der Leer, and later with former curatorial assistants Johanna Vandemoortele, Stephanie Kwai, and Amara Antilla—we knew it was time to initiate a dialogue about the role played by architecture and public space in the everyday life of contemporary citizens. That conversation needed to be broader and go beyond just the more traditional infrastructural discourse, moving into matters of public life and the use of our public space, with the person at the very center of the dialogue; and it needed to expand to include new voices from nontraditional disciplines, schools of thought, and walks of life. From these ideas, the Lab was born.
Our multidisciplinary experiment entailed some big leaps: in three cities, we invited microbiologists, psychologists, architects, neuroeconomists, television directors, athletes, engineers, photographers, medical technology innovators, environmental justice activists, journalists, tourism directors, tech geeks, anthropologists, chefs, florists, and many more supporters and collaborators to join us in our ongoing conversation about the future of urban life. Together, we addressed controversial urban issues like gentrification and urban equity while at the same time embarking on prototyping new urban furniture, offering programs that ranged from laughter yoga to urban sound workshops, and scientifically testing the reactions of city dwellers to their surroundings. By creating a platform where all of this could take place—where experts and non-experts came together—we hoped to contribute to the larger conversation about urban issues; but never could we have predicted just how much that conversation would be enriched by bringing together this diverse multitude of voices.
The conclusion of the BMW Guggenheim Lab does not, in fact, mark an ending: the Lab has set the stage for further engagement with urban issues. How we live our lives in urban centers has become one of the pivotal questions of the 21st century. The Guggenheim will continue to explore that crucial topic raised by the Lab through new formats and programs and to engage with the importance of social urban dynamics in the context of architecture and urbanism.
Some experiments start with a hypothesis and end with a conclusion. Ours began with important questions and will go on to raise more in the months and years ahead. In a sense, the Lab’s journey has just begun.