Lab Notes I

Neighbors in the Crucible (Considering Each Other)

Lab Notes I: Trends from the New York Lab | Emotional Cityness

The making of the modern city is marked by meta-awareness. I say this from the not-so-well informed post of New York City; that is, I make the assumption that people in rural and remote parts actually think about the wildly exponential aggregation going on in urban centers. They have to think about it. As much as we see cities crowding, they see people leaving.

Our emotional connection to a place influences the way we shape where we live. Lot’s wife had such a connection as to make one fatal look back at the city she loved while fleeing its destruction. Cities are that powerful. Our connection, though, is more than longing for the vibrancy that human density brings. It is also a specific concern about how we will make our way, with equal parts pain and promise now mashed into our faces.

Fret BMW Guggenheim Lab

This emotional consciousness is a shift away from the recent focus on simple material and technical possibility because it has to do with survival. When we get down to the marrow of survival, emotion is a natural companion: no time for the detached calculations of Cold War communism or the dreamy tech futurism that opened the Century 21 Exposition (the Seattle World’s Fair).

Despite our apparent preoccupation with all things tech (narrowly defined as “web + iPad”), I think we are conscious about our collective “will to do,” since human relationships (not human skill) are the real levers of city health. The latest app is most likely a game. That won’t save us. We may actually be concerned about people. People and survival. Witness the mass upheavals in Europe and the Middle East and the real human tension underlying the China boom. We are conscious that not even a very powerful person can change a city by himself. That’s not tolerated. Relationships determine what our future looks like.

Listen BMW Guggenheim Lab

That’s what I was looking for in shooting the Lab–cues to how we are considering each other, neither positively nor negatively. Just considering. Over three months, I engaged people directly on these concepts in a simulation called Urbanology. And I took pictures, trying to avoid the feel of yet another meeting at a hotel–indistinct round tables and glasses of water in photos that could be labeled “A Conference Somewhere.” I wanted a personal plot, even from the structure itself, and I strove to keep renewing the space in order to arrive at a thoughtful documentary that captured this new urgency.

Resolve BMW Guggenheim Lab

Rethink BMW Guggenheim Lab

Lab Notes I is an eight-week series focusing on trends that emerged from the BMW Guggenheim Lab New York. Curators Maria Nicanor and David van der Leer, blogger Christine McLaren, and a prominent group of guest contributors will explore the forces and transformations shaping the future of cities. The series will focus on four successive trends; the second is the Need to Promote Emotional Cityness.

Photographs of the BMW Guggenheim Lab by Eric J. Henderson, Part I
Photographs of the BMW Guggenheim Lab by Eric J. Henderson, Part II

  • Vbatisteladay

    Mr. Henderson, I think the urgency in the article is captured very diversely.   Emotion is a natural companion.  Great work!

  • Terry

    Amazing article…

  • Bert Vitaliz

    I never cease to be amazed at Eric H’s soulful photography. His ability to capture emotions in black and white reveal a sensitive and pure spirit.