Berlin Lab

Looking Back at the Lab

Photo: Maria Nicanor

Photo: Maria Nicanor

When I first came to work for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, I didn’t know what to expect. It seemed like I wasn’t alone in that, either. I remember meeting the curators a mere few days before the project opened. We sat down over lemonade in the sweltering, asphalt-incubated New York summer heat and I asked them what they expected to get out of the project. They didn’t really know, they replied. We’d have to wait and see.

At the time, this terrified me. Such huge names with such enormous commitment to this new urban platform, and no idea as to what the outcome should be? Insanity, I thought. But as it turns out, I was wrong. It wasn’t insane at all. It was brave.

The cities that will best survive the challenges facing us in the coming urban century are those that are most amenable to uncertainty. They are those that build flexibility into their code. They assume they will need to accommodate change, and empower their citizens to help them do so. They have solid goals, without a fixed agenda, and they have vision without expectation. They plan through inquiry rather than didacticism, and draw with pencils rather than pens. They know they don’t know what’s coming, so they plan to adapt to anything. What the Lab created in three cities was a working format for the urban conversation that reflected those same principles.

Throughout its time in New York, Berlin, and Mumbai, the Lab became many unexpected things. What started as an open platform shifted as needed to become a playground, a loudspeaker, a construction site, a lecture hall, a gym, a dance floor, a classroom, a theater, a sports field, a teahouse, a protest site, a salon, an intellectual boxing ring, and a round table, to name just a few of its incarnations. What’s more, it made the city itself all of those things as well. It didn’t just provide a temporary laboratory for experimentation; it gave city dwellers permission to use and transform the city into a lab themselves—a place to ask questions, demand answers, and prototype solutions for a better way of life.

The closing of the Lab is the opening of a new era where the city is there for us to make it what we want. It’s our open platform, our playground, and our round table. Let’s keep using it.

Check back tomorrow for Lab curator Maria Nicanor’s concluding thoughts on the Lab and its achievements.