Scoopy’s Notebook


What’s cooking at lab?

The BMW Guggenheim Lab officially opened Wednesday at Houston St. and Second Ave., and no, it’s not some evil Dr. Moreau-like laboratory where Beemers are grafted together with Francis Bacon paintings. “The BMW Lab is not a U.F.O.,” clarified Harold Krüger, a BMW board member, speaking at the press preview on Tuesday. What he meant was that New York was no random choice for the interactive project. The lab is, in fact, a “combination of think tank, public forum and community center.” Housed in a unique, 2,200-square-foot, carbon-fiber structure, it will remain in the East Village/Lower East Side through mid-October, after which it will travel (à la U.F.O.?) to Berlin and Mumbai. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said it wasn’t exactly clear why the property, which belongs to Parks, had remained vacant for so long. “I’m not exactly sure why they tore down the building that was here 75 years ago,” he admitted, though adding that after the lab flies off, the fixed-up space will remain as a public park. Evan Blum of Irreplaceable Artifacts formerly used the Houston St. strip for storing his marble mantelpieces and other sundry heavy garden decorations before his building partially collapsed and was then promptly demolished by the city. The lab will feature 55 days of programing and 100 films, events, lectures and workshops. (Check bmwguggenheimlab.org for the full schedule.) Every day at 2 p.m., some sort of workshop will take place at the lab, and will be open to the public. Everything at the lab is free — except for the tasty-looking, affordable fare at the outdoor cafe, being run by Roberta’s restaurant of Bushwick. Many of the workshops will take people out into the neighborhood, if not the outer boroughs, for further exploration. For example, workshop participants just might find themselves in hot pursuit of a garbage truck to see exactly where that pile of garbage on the curb ultimately winds up. When we there Tuesday, people were getting psyched for the “boat tour,” not to check out the Manhattan skyline, but the sewage, and where it all goes and flows, etc. A central feature of the lab is the Urbanology game, resembling a large-scale chessboard with 4-foot-high plexiglas pieces representing themes like livability, wealth, sustainability, mobility and affordability. Players compete in answering “yes” or “no” to provocative urban-planning and social-justice-type questions on a screen overhead, with audience reaction determining the winner for each round. The players get to justify their responses, which led to some lively repartee at the press preview. No, the winner, unfortunately, does not get a Beemer. The lab’s overall theme is “Confronting Comfort,” described as “exploring how urban environments can be made more responsive to people’s needs, how a balance can be found between notions of individual versus collective comfort, and how the urgent need for environmental and social responsibility can be met.” For the first three weeks, Dutch duo Kristian Koreman and Elma van Boxel, from ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles], will be running the show at the lab. Koreman said the first week will be “dedicated to the locals,” with local films and debates on local issues; the second week will deal with gentrification; and the third week, globalism. Asked how he gained his understanding of Lower East Side gentrification issues, Koreman said from members of Friends of First Park and other E. First St. block residents and from local academics, including N.Y.U. folks. He said he was familiar with the story of the Whole Foods building across the street, how it was part of the Cooper Square Urban Renewal plan, and also knew about Mars Bar’s recent closing. How about C.B.G.B.? “It’s still there, isn’t it?” he asked. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. These folks definitely seem committed, though, and appear to have their hearts and their urban design chops in the right place. The lab is open 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The cafe is open 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.