Berlin Lab

On Your Marks, Get Set . . .

In New York I didn’t have the pleasure of watching the Lab—the structure itself, that is—being built. By the time I arrived at 2nd Avenue and Houston Street in late July, it was already there, shimmied between two buildings, hovering like a stunt artist over the open space below, which was already bustling, full of people and activity.

So I didn’t get to have the same experience I had a few days ago in Berlin—of walking onto the site, after weeks of watching the structure grow bit by bit during the construction process, and being hit by the fact that all was still, the baskets of chairs dangling up in the roof, the bleacher seats set in the middle of the space, the screens and lights hanging silently, dark. And when this happened, it was followed by the surprisingly sudden realization that, wow, it’s up, it’s ready to go, and by a feeling of excited anticipation for what is to come.

But what really struck me about the space was the feeling of size and openness. In New York, the Lab almost felt like a secret passageway—a little hive tucked away that would surprise passersby on the street who hadn’t even seen it from a block away. (If you weren’t able to visit the Lab while it was in New York, check out photos here and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some of those who passed by would ignore it entirely (New Yorkers, I’ve noticed, come equipped with a special talent for filtering out unusual or unexpected stimuli around them). Those who were curious would stop and peek in tentatively from either end. Sometimes they’d make the conscious decision to cross into the space and fold into whatever was happening inside. Sometimes they’d pause only for a moment before continuing on their way. Or sometimes they’d stay standing on the sidewalk, just on the periphery—the border between inside and out.

I found this mixture of engagement levels fascinating—it was almost like a microcosm of participation in public space on the whole. When a band starts playing on a street corner, for instance, there are those who start dancing and clapping along. There are those who put on their headphones and walk away. And then there are those who stand at a bit of a distance, watching the dancers and the clappers and the players and the walkers, taking in the scene from afar. And all of them play an important role in the moment.

Here in Pfefferberg the structure is set in a wide, open courtyard, which makes it feel much bigger, but also gives it a more staggered entry point, for lack of a better description. The border between inside and outside seems a little more blurred, and it will be interesting to see how this influences the same varying levels of engagement this time around.

Check out the photos above of the Lab in its various stages of construction in Pfefferberg over the past couple of months (as well as the fun and endearingly stereotypical celebration of the structure’s completion by the Swiss company Nüssli, alpenhorns included).

Coming up this week: I’ll speak to each of the Lab Team members to get the nitty gritty on what you can expect during their time at the reins of programming once the Lab opens on June 15. Stay tuned!