Berlin Lab

Forty Beams, 4,000 miles, and More: the Lab’s Long Road to Berlin, Explained

In case you haven’t noticed, the BMW Guggenheim Lab isn’t exactly your average art installation. Moving it from place to place isn’t quite like taking a painting off the wall, packing it up, and shipping it off to the next museum.

No, it turns out that disassembling a think tank/community center/public gathering space and moving it 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean is a little more arduous than that.

Since the Lab closed on October 16, almost ten people have been working away all day, every day, packing the Lab up piece by piece and getting ready to ship it off to Berlin. I’ve watched with awe as the Lab has become more and more skeletal each day before my eyes.

Just to give you a glimpse of the enormity of this undertaking, here is a quick run through of what the Lab has ahead of it:

It will take about two and a half weeks to completely deinstall the structures. These include the bathrooms, the café, and the main superstructure where the programming took place, which, all together, will take up six 40-foot-long shipping containers.


First to go is the sound, audio, and visual equipment—the display screens, speakers, theater lights, and other electrical goodies that were used in the programming. This all gets packed into enough flight cases (56, to be exact) to take up half a shipping container. The other half will be shared by the bleacher seating, the furniture baskets you may have seen hanging high above you in the space, and the 90 chairs and 20 tables those baskets held.

The café and washroom structures are, in essence, like giant (albeit far better quality) pieces of IKEA furniture; all of the pieces are simply numbered and screwed together. So partaking them apart is simple: unscrew, stack, repeat. Including the eight toilets and their independent plumbing system—1,000-gallon septic container not included, I was relieved to hear—this will take up two entire containers.

The mesh from the outside of the main structure—that beautiful billowing opalescent material you saw covering the upper half—and the 8.5-by-30 meter roof membrane then get rolled up and packed into a container of their own.

The carbon-fiber skeleton itself will take up just one container, but packing it is the highest-maintenance part of the process. Because carbon fiber is made, literally, of thousands of parallel fibers, the beams must be heavily protected to prevent cracks or damage that would separate those fibers and compromise their structural integrity.

Each of the forty beams will be individually wrapped in film and packed into a specially designed box lined with carpet. (As a fun side note, these beams weigh just 1,600 kilograms in total, a fifth of what the same structure would weigh if made of steel, with the same structural integrity.)

Finally the steel bolts, catwalk, anchor plates, and other more boring accessories fill one more container.

These six containers—weighing some 96 tons altogether—will then be trucked to Newark where they’ll hop aboard the cheerfully named Atlantic Companion and make the 12-day journey across the Atlantic to Hamburg.

From there they’ll be trucked to a warehouse just outside of Berlin, where the containers will be unpacked, the carbon frame cleaned, maintained, and x-rayed—yep, you read that correctly, x-rayed—to check for damages, and the countdown started till reinstallation in Berlin.

Stay tuned for the grand announcement of the Lab’s location in Berlin.

Onward ho!

. . .

Photos: Duncan Ball