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A 'glossary' that defines innovation among 100 urban trends

Posting in Architecture

Billed as an "urban think tank, community center, and public gathering space," The BMW Guggenheim Lab recently released a glossary titled 100 Urban Trends. The entries are based on observations and insights the initiative's organizers compiled during the project's run in Berlin, Germany, this past summer.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a temporary, mobile structure created by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, in partnership with design-conscious automaker BMW. It first launched in New York, where it was open from August 3 to October 16, 2011. In Berlin, it ran from June 15 through July 29, 2012, and its next leg opens in Mumbai at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum on December 9. At all venues, the goal is to present talks, events, workshops, and a gathering space, all focused on understanding and improving life in cities by engaging citizens and involving a broad, interdisciplinary spectrum of experts.

The new glossary features some definitions are very succinct and accurate. Take, for instance, that often slippery term, "innovation":

Innovation refers to activities at the forefront of society that challenge the status quo and push for meaningful progress. Often used in the field of science, technology, and the arts, the term implies the production of new ideas or notable improvements to existing ideas.

To relate how the BMW Guggenheim Lab addressed each term in its programs in Berlin, the document offers a quick synopsis of an event that took place. For innovation, for instance, the entry includes the summary, "Toy designer Barry Kudrowitz led an interactive talk that focused on the connections between innovation, humor, and play."

Yet some definitions seem a little too specific for very general terms, such as "creativity":

Creativity is the ability to make connections that are not necessarily obvious between seemingly unconnected things, leading to new ideas. Associative learning theories support a variety of methods to connect abstract concepts in our brains in order to find novel outcomes, thus promoting creativity.

Oddly, this entry seemed to shoehorn creativity into the context of making connections between unrelated concepts or objects, rather than coming up with fresh ones. It didn't relate creativity to cities, either.

And upon first read, I wasn't sure that other, obvious terms as "vacant space" really need definitions -- but on second read, I found the detailed context fascinating and relevant:

Vacant Space is land that has temporarily fallen out of use. In cities, vacant lots provide opportunities for spontaneous urban interventions, public gathering, and leisure, but can also become determining factors in the city’s economic well-being. If not managed correctly by city governments, an abundance of empty lots can lead to urban speculation and safety issues.

Many of the other entries serve well to define very trendy, general terms in the fields of design and technology, such as The Maker movement. There are also some very of-the-moment puns, such as "thinkering":

Thinkering is a combination of the words “tinkering” and “thinking.” It suggests a mode of thinking that brings together the thought moment with the execution moment, a shift that is facilitated by technology and rapid prototyping platforms.

In many ways, the BMW Guggenheim Lab's "100 Urban Trends" is less a glossary and more of a time capsule of the intersection between design, technology, and popular culture -- and, because cities are where most people on Earth live today -- life, in general, the 2010s.

Image: Christian Richters/BMW Guggenheim Lab/Flickr

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— By on November 11, 2012, 12:13 PM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure