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Studying Urban Life & Planning for Public Spaces // Relevant Resource: The BMW Guggenheim Lab, Mumbai

"The BMW Guggenheim Lab was a mobile laboratory about urban life that began as a co-initiative of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the BMW Group. From 2011 to 2014, the Lab traveled to New York, Berlin, and Mumbai. Part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space, the Lab’s goal was the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking visions and projects for city life. Through the lens of the themes Confronting Comfort, Making, and Privacy and Public Space, this global project explored how people relate to cities and public space today." - from

Photo of Ivy Young
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Why The BMW Guggenheim Lab?

I love museums and am eternally interested in how these cultural resources can activate their role as key community forums and gathering spaces to address larger civic issues.

For this reason, I was really impressed and interested in following the BMW Guggenheim Lab over the last few years as "international, interdisciplinary Lab Teams—groups of emerging talents in the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability—the Lab addressed issues of contemporary urban life through free programs, projects and public discourse."

The Lab in Mumbai
"During the Lab’s stay in Mumbai, the Mumbai Lab Team created a series of projects, academic and participatory studies, and design proposals that reflected the unique conditions and challenges of Mumbai. Over six weeks, the Lab, presented in collaboration with the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, offered 165 free programs, including design projects, surveys, tours, talks, workshops, and film screenings. The central location of the Lab was on the grounds of the museum in Mumbai’s Byculla neighborhood; additionally, nearly half of the public programs were held at satellite locations throughout the city, making the Lab available to a wide range of audiences and communities."

The Lab's Relevant Events*

Many of the Mumbai Lab events appear relevant to our contributions in discussing how to empower women and girls and also up their safety in urban areas. Here's a sample:
•  Mera Apna Sheher (My Own City) - a film by Sameera Jain, India, 2011 
"What role does gender play in public space? Is there a way to reimagine and reclaim the city as a place of equality for women and men? How can we reveal female subjugation, which is so deeply embedded in the terrain of cities and the logic of our culture?"

•  Invoking Justice - a film by Deepa Dhanraj, India, 2011
"...chronicles the struggle of a group of women to bring the private, domestic issues of women into the public domain defined by the community. This documentary sheds light on an all-woman’s Jamaat (council) that was formed to uphold a new standard of justice for women. The women’s council holds its exclusively male counterpart and local police to account, and attempts to reform a corrupt system that uses religion to justify violence towards women."

• Pop-Up Garden
"Studies show that women in Mumbai do not have access to spaces where they can have privacy, whether they need it to speak to their children or simply to take a quiet moment for themselves. This hands-on workshop explores how pop-up gardens throughout the city may be able to fill this and other needs by catering to diverse communities. Women, representatives of civic bodies, students of planning and architecture, and others interested in urban planning are invited to help move the idea forward toward a workable model."

• Ten Conversations [Interviews] about Privacy
From this collection of Mumbai's residents reflecting on privacy and public space, you can listen to all of the interviews and/or read some transcripts here - Much is revealed about how safe women feel as well, particularly from the femal interviewees.

For a complete list of all the Mumbai Lab events, see here.

The Lab's Findings

In the Lab's exploration of what constitutes a public space and what is privacy, they discovered:
An equal number of men and women were concerned with safety. For 87 percent of female participants, women’s safety, sexual harassment, and the presence of men were the top three criteria that precluded women from accessing public space; men expressed concern about the same issues. In a city considered one of India’s safest, this was an unexpected response. [Italics added for emphasis.]

More here.

There's So Much More for Us to Learn from the Lab!

I believe that we would benefit from diving deeper into The BMW Guggenheim's process, findings, and blog entries. I imagine that the Mumbai installation would yeild a number of important leads for potential interviews for us as well.

Does anyone know more about this work or have connections/inroads with the Mumbai Lab advisors and team or with The BMW Guggenheim Lab altogether?

* I'd love to see these films! Any ideas on how we might access them?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Interesting share, Ivy. I was especially impressed with the community garden: which included women from low-income backgrounds in the process. (I've been impressed with other initiatives by SNEHA including this one: ) It looks like many of the initiatives by the Lab engaged middle class Mumbaikers. They're certainly part of the equation of safety in the city – but engaging those in low-income contexts seems very important alongside this. Makes me wonder whether they had forms for the privacy mapping initiative (great idea!) translated into local languages? You've raised lots for us to think about for our upcoming Ideas phase. Hope to see you there!

Photo of Ivy Young

Yes! The community gardens! And they appear to still be going strong! -- wish I could have added this to our research...

AND this is similar to the Tenderloin National Forest, which I touched on in another contribution, as you know. (

Alas - this coupled with my other post - I really believe that connecting with the Lab, its team, and advisors could offer our openIDEO challenge some powerful insights, particularly as it is recent and their focus was "how urban environments can be made more responsive to people’s needs, how people can feel more at ease in urban environments, and how to find a balance between notions of modern comfort and the urgent need for environmental and social responsibility."


Advisory Committee:

There must be someone in the challenge community who is closely tied to these individual's networks. Unfortunately, I am not.