Berlin Lab

Game Changers: A Web Surfer’s Guide to the Berlin Lab Team

Berlin Lab Team

Today Guggenheim and BMW officials announced the team that will take the reins of the Lab during its run in Berlin next spring, and already it’s clear that the Lab will take on a much different face in Berlin than it did in New York.

The Berlin team is made up of what I see as a really exciting mix of mega–game changers in their respective, extremely varying fields. It will be torturous waiting to see what exciting stuff happens when these brains all come together next spring.

But before they do it is worth taking a little time to get to their truly fascinating work as individuals.

José Gómez-Márquez

MIT Innovations in International Health director and co-founder of LDTC+Labs José Gómez-Márquez is probably best known for his bare bones, DIY-style medical innovations for the developing world. Using inexpensive, often everyday materials, his lab creates medical equipment suited to the needs of doctors in the developing world and the environments they work in, which are often rugged, rural, without electricity, and severely lacking financial resources.

Many of these tools are literally made out of children’s toys—Lego and plastic helicopters converted into lifesaving devices. You can watch Gómez-Márquez demonstrate some of them in this interview with Al Jazeera at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh or this interview on CNET (if you can stand the awkward hostess). For a more comprehensive presentation, check out the lecture he gave on DIY medical technology at the World Maker Faire this year in New York.

Technology Review ran a great piece about him and his lab when they selected him as one of their 35 Innovators under 35 and Humanitarian of the Year in 2009, and you can also catch some of his own writing in the Boston Review on the importance of encouraging inventiveness when linking behavioral economics to global development.

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith is one of Australia’s leading active and sustainable transportation planners and gurus, and an absolute fiend for all things cycling. Her effusive enthusiasm for cycling is best seen on her website, where she boasts, among many other things, the most impressive and fascinating photo collection of cycling infrastructure I have ever seen—from nearly 30 cities, and counting.

Working in cycle planning, sustainable and public transport strategy development, travel-behavior change and travel-demand management in the private and public sectors in the UK and Australia, she also writes frequently for some of my own favorite blogs, like This Big City, as well as a few on her home turf in Australia.

For a look into her big passion, however, check out her amazing Cycling Super Highways Toolkit (PDF), a vision she created for 7-meter-wide cycleways completely separated from parked and moving cars, after travelling to over 20 cities to learn how to make cycling the most appealing to those who are the most afraid or hesitant. She also created a regular cycling event for just those types of people in her own city of Brisbane called Lazy Sunday Cycle, which looks, quite simply, delightful. I hope she runs one while she’s in Berlin.

Carlo Ratti

Carlo Ratti’s work as an architect and engineer is diverse and eclectic. It leaves him with a 21-page resume that is difficult to encompass in just a few links.

The best place to start, however, is likely his very recent TED Talk on how his lab is using data visualizations and new technology to create a new understanding and experience of city life.

The fascinating projects he alludes to in his talk are part of his work at the SENSEable City Lab, the MIT project that he founded and directs. The lab explores new ways to visualize digital data to investigate urban dynamics in real time. (Don’t forget to check out the bizarre but fun voyeuristic peek into the SENSEable Lab offices on their blog.

Some of my personal favorite SENSEable City projects include:

• CO2GO, the smartphone app that automatically detects and measures the distance the user travels on each type of transportation mode to create a real-time calculation of transport-related CO2 emissions;
• the Copenhagen Wheel, which transforms ordinary bikes into human-powered hybrid electric bikes by capturing the energy dissipated in cycling and braking, while also mapping pollution levels, traffic congestion, road conditions, calories burned while cycling, and more, in real-time on the owner’s smart phone;
• Backtalk, the hauntingly beautiful project that tracked the trajectory of recycled e-waste with mapping devices, and documented the second lives of reused/donated computers via cameras attached to the machines that captured the faces, schoolrooms, houses, and lives of those who used them the second time around;
• and Trash Track, which similarly tracked the shocking travels of 3,000 pieces of household trash.

And though you needn’t any additional reason to check the projects out, all have short video explainers, which are worth watching for the amazing visuals and startlingly beautiful soundtracks alone.

If that’s not enough, you can see some of Ratti’s design work, such as his completely wacky but wonderful Digital Water Pavillion, with sensing walls made of water, at Zaragoza’s Milla Digital and Expo in 2008, and other projects, on the website of his firm, Carlo Ratti Associati; a digital video about the desert city he conceived, to be completely designed and maintained by computer algorhythms; or a rough-cut but fun and intimate interview he did with the Guardian earlier this year.

Corinne Rose

It’s next to impossible to find someone in this day and age that is completely unstalkable on the Internet. But until yesterday Corinne Rose was one of those people.

While researching for this article I found myself buried under links to the other Lab Team members’ work, yet drawing an unexplained blank when it came to Corinne. Had I not met her in person at the opening of the New York Lab, I might have suspected she didn’t really exist.

In response to a defeated e-mail I sent her she referred to herself as “the secret artist.” Lucky for us, however, she decided to change that and put up a beautiful website, offering a glimpse (albeit just a brief, teasing one) of some of her work.

Corinne might have one of the coolest interdisciplinary skill-set combinations around. Yes, she’s an artist working primarily in video and photography, but she also has a Ph.D. in psychology!

Keep that degree in mind while you check out some of her work, much of which focuses on urban form and architecture as both subject and canvas, in a unique and powerful exploration of the relationship between architecture and its physical and human context.

This focus comes out especially well in her work Reflected Observed, a video work on the Trutec building and its chaotic yet beautiful surrounding human landscape in Seoul, Korea.

Her surprisingly intimate photography exhibition of the industrial assembly halls of Leipzig’s BMW factory, which includes shots of everything from shelving units to colorful bath towels hanging in what appears to be the staff locker room, as well as her video explorations of life in New York and Seoul’s subway system are powerful examples of her knack for drawing the thread through urban form, art, and psychology by capturing and investigating urban environments on a hyper-micro scale.

Over the coming few weeks, we will feature interviews with each of the new Lab Team members about what they hope to focus on during their time at the Lab and how they will use their unique lenses to investigate the city in new ways. Stay tuned!

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Photo (group): Maria Nicanor

  • lab_crit

    1. Berlin has (despite some hickups) a pretty good public transport system
    2. Posh cars tend to go up in flames in Berlin
    3. Berliners usually don’t have enough money (ever) to afford a BMW
    4. Weren’t there any clever people from the Berlin area to fit the BMW-Lab profile?

    So where is the Berlin-BMW connection?

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your questions and interest. As a center for culture, media, science and more, Berlin is an exciting chance for us to explore new ideas and urban issues. We’re also proud to have a local Berliner as part of the Berlin Lab Team (artist and psychologist Corinne Rose, bio: and the roster of free programs will be open to people from all parts of Berlin. We hope you’ll stay tuned for more information about Berlin in the coming months!

  • lab_crit