This morning, at an Upper East Side press conference, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation—the institution that originated the concept of the museum as a global enterprise when the Guggenheim Bilbao opened in 1997—announced a new initiative: a collaborative project between the Guggenheim Foundation and the BMW Group. Entitled the BMW Guggenheim Lab, the initiative combines public programming activities around urban life with portable architecture that travels from city to city. Three labs, each reaching three major cities, will be created under the six-year-long collaboration. The individual labs will be assigned a theme, an architect, and a graphic designer every two years. The debut theme is “Confronting Comfort: The City and You,” and Tokyo-based architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow, chosen for its witty approach to everyday design challenges, will design 5,000-square-foot structure that will open at its yet-to-be-announced North American city in summer 2011. Seoul-based graphic designers Sulki & Min are signed on to tackle the project's graphic identity.

The Guggenheim Foundation’s vision is as lofty and ambitious as it is on-trend, as questions of the city—from small-scale urban agriculture to large infrastructural speculations—are taken up by not only architects and urban planners, but by cultural institutions and corporations. Conceptualized as a combination of urban think tank, community center, and gathering space, the labs will also bring together interdisciplinary teams, including artists, architects, designers, scientists, and economists, to tackle the issue facing cities today. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and design, and Maria Nicanor, assistant curator, will curate the mix of thinkers, designers. The goal, said van der Leer at the press conference, “is to go beyond the walls of buildings and the confines of the gallery and into the realm of urban thinking and urban action.”

Update, 4:00 p.m.: Reached via telephone after the press conference, van der Leer offered comments that explain some of the thinking behind the BMW Guggenheim Lab:

- “I think it is important for us to do this. It is easy to make an architecture about an object. But it is important to get out into the city, to not be in the museum at all, but to do projects in the urban fabric. Over the next year we’ll be running two other programs that engage the urban environment.”

- “We see this lab as a community center—but not just one community, not one audience. One day you may get a lot of tourists; the next day, students; the next, elderly folks.”

- “We have a shortlist of cities, but when we make these lists it’s not about choosing where we should make culture, but what can we learn in these cities.”

- “This is a completely different approach than the Bilbao effect. And this project is not traveling to places because of branding opportunities. We are going to cities to learn from them, to work with the people in these cities.”