The 2,200-square-foot mobile structure is a lightweight and compact Swiss army knife. The pavilion is versatile in both function and placement, easily fitting into dense neighborhoods and sites such as the East Village’s First Park while providing an open plan for any number of presentations, charettes, or interactive experiences. At its current location, the two-story structure sits between two buildings with its southern end opening to a green space with a cafe and restrooms. The ground level of the BMW Guggenheim Lab structure is an open space that can be modified for each program, utilizing moveable chairs, bleachers, and other furnishings to maximize flexibility of function. Events at the Lab will range from a formal lecture setting with a stage to a celebratory gathering or a workshop. During our visit on press day, multicolored chairs lined up in neat rows faced towards a lectern; these chairs were later grouped into smaller circles for interviews and discussions.
The flexibility on ground level is afforded by the upper, “toolbox” portion of the structure. This portion resembles the backstage and lighting areas of a theater, containing all of the equipment necessary to operate the Lab. The extremely lightweight carbon fiber framing supports a grid of catwalks arranged around rows of lighting, monitors, and speakers hanging into the space below. This framework is loosely wrapped in two layers of mesh, a translucent veil that partially hides the inner workings of the building from passers-by.
An extensive apparatus of “tools” can be raised or lowered on a set of rigs to configure the lower space, including two sets of nine LCD monitors that are set up back to back to one another at the center of the space, like a jumbotron in a sports stadium. Ingenuous storage compartments and cages for furnishings also drop down from above, and can be lowered or raised individually.
All programs at the Lab are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, though some events require advance registration online. The BMW Guggenheim Lab will be open from 1 to 9 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The cafe, operated by the Brooklyn-based restaurant Robertaʼs, is open 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. One constant is the presence of Urbanology, a role-playing group game featuring city stakeholders that can be played on-site in an interactive installation, or on the web.
At the North end of the site, around the Urbanology game created by Local Projects LLC, curtains can be drawn to manipulate privacy and lighting within the space; these mesh drapes accentuate the contrast between the sleek dark structure and adjacent old brick facades, framing the two between swaths of white. While the contrast is stark between the new design and older site, part of the Lab’s project includes park renovations in the form of new fences, plantings, and pavement. The BMW Guggenheim Lab practices what it preaches, concentrating not just on the exchange of ideas for the betterment of our cities, but also on the physical improvement of its own urban setting.