Peterson Rich Office will install a social learning lab in NYC’s Rubin Museum

Mind Yourself

Peterson Rich Office will install a social learning lab in NYC’s Rubin Museum

The contemplative nature of the forthcoming Mandala Lab is accentuated by the mesh partitions, which resemble cascading light. (© Peterson Rich Office/The Rubin Museum of Art)

Although the coronavirus pandemic has savaged cultural institutions around the world, museums across the U.S. are slowly reopening at reduced capacity. Still, it’s a perilous time for art and design museums, and that’s why Manhattan’s Rubin Museum of Art is reconfiguring its third floor into the forthcoming Mandala Lab, an “interactive space for social and emotional learning for all ages,” according to a press release.

The new, 2,700-square-foot lab should be right at home at the Rubin Museum. Primarily displaying works of art, cultural, and religious artifacts from across the Himalayas, the museum has also put a strong emphasis on mindfulness. Take its 2020 theme, for instance, a yearlong exploration of Buddhist Impermanence, and the associated, ongoing Measure Your Existence exhibition; an entire lab devoted to the subject is the logical next step.

The museum launched a design competition for the Mandala Lab earlier this year, and the project will replace the third-floor galleries, which currently house the permanent Masterworks of Himalayan Art exhibition (no worries though, the show will be moved to the fifth floor and reopen on January 21, 2021). The Brooklyn-based Peterson Rich Office (PRO) ultimately won, and this marks its first museum project in the city (though not the first gallery there).

Inside the rubin museum lab with granite bench
The east space in the Mandala Lab, with a continuous seating element. (© Peterson Rich Office / The Rubin Museum of Art)

The aptly named Mandala Lab will, according to an announcement by the museum, be architecturally influenced by the mandala—they also noted that the spiritual symbol appears in over 100 pieces in the museum’s collection. The focus of the Mandala Lab will be to teach users how to deal with their emotions and focus their energy on coping with the especially “tumultuous” times through meditation and other Buddhist practices.

“Our society is struggling right now. We are navigating a pandemic, we are grappling with a climate crisis, and we are confronting longstanding inequities and deep divisions in our society,” said Rubin Museum executive director Jorrit Britschgi in the project announcement. “With the Mandala Lab, our hope is to empower us to face these challenges: to widen our imagination, understand and manage our emotions, enrich our capacity for empathy, and connect with others. Our hope is for the Rubin to be a Museum where art, ideas, research, and our emotions connect.”

The lab will be divided up into four quadrants, both referencing the cardinal directions as well as the four classical elements (earth, fire, water, and wind), and each area will teach participants how to deal with a particular emotion (ie, anger, jealousy, etc). Contemporary artists will also be commissioned to create site-specific, multidisciplinary work for the lab.

Interior of a stark concrete space with mesh barriers
The Mandala Lab’s west space, with tables and chairs set up for learning. (© Peterson Rich Office/The Rubin Museum of Art)

PRO has designed an open-floor space convertible for different purposes through mesh partitions and included an amphitheater, modular furniture, flexible learning spaces, and a screening area.

The Mandala Lab is scheduled to open sometime in the fall of 2021, when visiting a museum in-person will hopefully be a much less harrowing experience.