Canary Wharf: How the Mandala Lab aims to transform emotions into wisdom

Installation by The Rubin Museum at Union Square on Wood Wharf is based on Buddhist philosophy

Tim McHenry of The Rubin Museum Of Art in New York

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Tim McHenry’s job is essentially to get people interested in things.

A lithe and slender man with a strong shirt game, the chief programmatic officer of The Rubin Museum Of Art in New York is an erudite guide as he takes me round the institution’s Mandala Lab in Canary Wharf.

The cylindrical installation popped up in Wood Wharf’s Union Square in September, is free to visit and opens daily from noon until 6pm (8pm on Thursdays).

It’s set to remain in place until November 25, 2023 – but what on Earth is it?

“As the name might indicate, it’s an experiment,” said Tim.

“All we do at The Rubin is inspired by the significant body of Himalayan art we have in our collection – it’s an exploration of mind and a negation of life and death, the deep stuff.

“In order to welcome people into that, we thought we might want to bring them into the shallower end of the pool until they learn to swim.

“It needs to be accessible, not only because the wheelchair ramps work, but also because if you look at a painting in the collection, you might not understand it.

“Walk inside this version of a painting that we’ve created here in Canary Wharf, however, and its meaning becomes clear because it’s a visceral journey, and it will help you see what it is about you that you have the capacity to change.

The Mandala Lab is located in Union Square, Canary Wharf

“The experience is based on a Tibetan Buddhist painting in The Rubin’s collection – a mandala, which in Sanskrit means circle.

“It has no beginning and no end, it’s all encompassing. This is a microcosm of your mind.

“Your embarkation point is on the outer rim and you’ve got to find your way to become the middle.

“At the centre is all-encompassing wisdom, but this only comes about by fully understanding what ignorance is.

“The Lab has four segments, each of which has a portal, the green room for envy, blue for anger, yellow for pride and red for attachment.

“You can enter through any of them.

“We’ve represented the mandala in the painting physically so people can step inside – it’s a metaphorical embodiment of the principles in the painting.

“All we’re doing is asking that people step inside – like Mary Poppins and Bert jumping into chalk on the pavement.”

For Envy, visitors synchronise their breathing with a pulsating light

The experience comes in four parts.

  • Envy sees visitors synchronise their breathing with a light, together with others in the same space.
  • Pride is a chance to look at oneself in a distorted mirror before deciding which of four categories one fits into.
  • Attachment is an opportunity to explore scent and memory.
  • Anger is a chance to hit a gong before lowering it into a tank of water and seeing the furious vibrations quickly dissipate in the calming liquid.

Incidentally, the gongs have been designed by various prominent individuals including celebrated percussionist Evelyn Glennie and Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis.

Tim and The Rubin are more than happy to call in celebrities to further the museum’s reach and expose more people to the ideas in its collection.

“Since joining The Rubin when it opened just over 20 years ago, it’s been my job to make Himalayan art accessible and popular, using many techniques including high profile people, contemporary artists and culture,” said Tim who ran events for the New Yorker magazine prior to his role at the museum.

“What was really transformative was recognising that Buddhist art is largely about an exploration of the mind and with that came the interesting idea of looking at this philosophy in comparison to what we understand about how our brains work – the latest neuroscience. 

For Attachement, visitors explore smell and memory

“We ran a series called Brainwave where we would have a scientist on stage with someone from a different walk of life and we’d try to unpack our behaviour and the choices we make by virtue of the context. 

“We had Jake Gyllenhall on dreams, for example, and Whoopi Goldberg on time, which brought The Rubin attention – particularly secular – that it might not otherwise have had given that the art is largely Tibetan Buddhist and to some degree ritualistic in that it’s an exercise of the mind.”

That’s exactly the point of the Mandala Lab and you don’t need to be famous to experience it – although, incidentally, actor Brian Cox (Logan Roy in the excellent Succession) did pop up at the launch party to bash a gong in anger.

It’s intended as a journey of self discovery – a series of activities designed to provoke thoughts about the self, our place in the world and our relationship to others. 

“Envy, for example, is devoted to this exploration of this rather sharp-elbowed, competitive thing that sometimes inhabits our minds and hearts,” said Tim.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie performs at the Mandala Lab launch

“Why did someone else get a pay rise and I didn’t? Whatever it is, it’s something that we feel we lack in ourselves – it’s always self-centric.

“Here the exercise is super simple – if the first thing you did in your life was take a breath, then it will probably be the last, and that’s all we’re asking people to do.

“They breathe in time with a light source. 

“One of the most interesting advances in psychology and neuroscience is the idea of entrainment, where individuals sit in the same space and do something at the same pace. 

“Their heartbeats start to align and that starts to develop that subliminal bond and, over time and repeated exposure, will start to foster pro-social behaviour, because we think of ourselves as one.

“When that happens, there’s nobody left to be envious of. It’s a metaphor, but it’s an experience metaphor, and this is what Mandala Lab is all about.”

Over the course of the four segments, visitors are gently exposed to the idea that we are all connected, that we are all the same and that we are also all different and individual – that these things are all true at the same time. 

Actor Brian Cox watches his anger dissipate at the Mandala Lab

“It’s about establishing these teachings which are all about how we navigate our emotions – how we can harness the energy that we expend on maintaining them into a greater understanding of how we can deal with life,” said Tim.

“The aim is that we’re not buffeted by these reactive feelings of anger, attachment, envy and pride, which we find hard to control. Indeed, when we can’t control them, we tend to lash out and damage others and ourselves, which can lead to grief. 

“Those behaviours can become habitual patterns that are ultimately harmful.

“What we’ve experienced in New York with the Lab is a move to a more selfless nature – from the individual to the community – that’s something we could certainly do with a little more of.

“I hope this installation is a spur to understanding for people on the Wharf – it’s free to everyone so come on down.”

Find out more about the Mandala Lab here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How NYC is coming to Wood Wharf as 8 Harbord Square homes launch

New York takeover will see estate carpeted with americana, offers and pop-ups to mark occasion

The launch of 8 Harbord Square will see a four-day New York City takeover of Wood Wharf arrive in Canary Wharf

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New York City looms large in the imagination. It’s the smooth vocals of Alicia Keys on Empire State Of Mind, yellow taxis and the splash of water over Carrie Bradshaw.

It’s impossibly tall skyscrapers, hip-hop, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin playing over-excited sailors in On The Town.

It’s Central Park, Central Perk and the Ghostbusters piloting the Statue Of Liberty through Fifth Avenue. 

Countless heroes and villains in every kind of drama have made it their home in literature, on stage and across screens big and small.

Often those characters are portrayed living in loft apartments – open spaces with high ceilings and large windows, typically featuring exposed brickwork and concrete, hinting at  former lives as offices or places of industry.

London too has had a flush of such properties – albeit on a smaller scale – with warehouses, usually along the Thames, converted.

Many have that NYC-feel, with original features celebrated amid the sleek worktops of fitted kitchens and cleverly cantilevered mezzanines. They are now, however, few and far between for enthusiastic buyers.

Homes at 8 Harbord Square are completely open-plan in the style of New York lofts

That’s where 8 Harbord Square comes in.

It’s styled by Karakusevic Carson Architects as a brick-built structure that wouldn’t look out of place in New York’s meatpacking district – a chunk of the city that became a hotbed of fashion design, culture, dining and residential property in the 1990s and 2000s.

Its story – of industrial decline followed by regeneration – is not dissimilar to Canary Wharf’s.

The difference here, of course, is that 8 Harbord Square is newly built, with none of the potential problems of an industrial conversion but all of the style of a chic, period loft.

“There are 82 apartments in total, spread over 12 storeys and they are very different to anything that we’ve ever built or sold before,” said Melanie Conway, director of residential sales at Canary Wharf Group.

“We’ve stripped everything back, so there’s exposed brickwork and concrete ceilings – the decor is very raw – with huge Crittall windows to let lots of light in.

“There’s a real openness to the lofts.

“They are very unusual – buyers are used to seeing apartments with bedrooms and living spaces laid out.

“Here, it’s very much up to the buyer how they want to live in them.”

The majority of the building’s floors – excluding the penthouses which have already sold – are split into eight apartments in two configurations.

The Prospect Lofts are just over 800sq ft of open-plan, undivided space.

Each comes with a fully-fitted kitchen in stainless steel, with Siemens appliances including a built-in washer-dryer.

Heating comes from cast iron radiators arranged along the walls, while ceiling fans provide air circulation throughout. 

The only walls are around the bathroom, which includes a black-framed shower cubicle, a free-standing bath and double sinks.

These properties are single aspect and are located in the centre of the building.

The Gramercy Lofts are similar in every respect, except that they extend to a little over 1,000sq ft and are arranged on the four corners of each floor with twice as many windows.

“We’ve been holding off on a big launch until the building is nearly finished, because the best way for buyers to understand these spaces is to walk into them,” said Melanie.

“We’re expecting people to be able to move in by the end of the year.

The building has been styled to echo properties in NYC’s meatpacking district

“It’s been very interesting to see who has bought here already – it’s a real mix from young couples to downsizers who love the warehouse style, and even students.

“It’s a design that appeals to lots of different people because you can move everything around. 

“We could have dropped the ceilings and put in walls to create a typical layout, but we wanted to keep everything real.

“There’s not much decoration to be done and very little maintenance as there’s hardly any wall space that needs painting.

“The properties will also stand the test of time from a design-point of view – they won’t date.

“People buying here might be looking at older warehouses, but 8 Harbord Square is newly built so there won’t be unexpected leaks or any issues like that.

“They’re also really well insulated because they have been designed as homes. They are new, but also really cool.

“They’re very tranquil too, overlooking Harbord Square Park – an oasis of calm away from the bustle.”

Following the completion of two show apartments at the scheme, Canary Wharf Group is marking the occasion with a New York-style takeover of the whole of Wood Wharf.

The event runs for four days from September 20-23, 2023, with offers, pop-ups and installations.


“Wood Wharf feels very much like the residential district of Canary Wharf and, with 8 Harbord Square offering warehouse-style living, the takeover seemed like a great way to promote the building,” said Melanie.

“New York sits very well alongside the buildings here and on the estate as a whole.

“Right now it’s about awareness and it’s also an opportunity for people to discover what it’s like to live here.

“From the moment people leave one of our stations, the whole estate is managed by Canary Wharf Group.

The Prospect is the smaller of the two layouts stretching to 800sq ft

“There’s also security on site, 24-hours a day and a high level of cleanliness and service across the estate.

“Well known as a commercial area, for us it’s about communicating how much the Wharf has changed even since work began on Wood Wharf in 2015.

“People are now investing their time and money into coming to the estate as a leisure destination – the shops, the bars, the restaurants and so on.

“The transport is fantastic and, while people were initially buying here because they worked locally, we’re now seeing them make their home here and work elsewhere.

“People just love it.”

Show apartments at 8 Harbord Square are now available to view with prices for a Prospect apartment starting at £770,000.

Patty & Bun will be serving up its Classic American burger with a free cocktail for the takeover


Mini Manhattan – that’s what they call the Isle Of Dogs – so what’s this takeover all about, anyways?

Wood Wharf is set to be transformed into the Big Apple for four days from September 20-23, 2023.

Running 11am-7pm, expect big yellow taxis, break dancers, chess tables in Harbord Square, a subway station and an authentic US school bus serving up hot dogs and pizza by the slice.

Have a nice day now. 

In addition to the various special events that will be taking place over the four days, many of Wood Wharf’s businesses will be getting involved with the takeover, adding further layers to the immersive experience. Here are the deals to look out for:

  • Free Manhattan cocktail

Head down to the corner of Water Street and Park Drive, where Mallow will be adding a very special item to its entirely plant-based menu for the duration of the takeover.

Order its French Dip – featuring portobello mushrooms, caramelised red onion, horseradish cream, red wine jus and butter pickles – for £15 and you’ll receive a Chocolate Cherry Pie Manhattan for free to go with it.

The cocktail is made with Bourbon, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, sour cherry molasses and bitters – for a potent take on a New York classic – and costs £9 on its own.

Mallow will have a French Dip on the menu with a free Chocolate Cherry Pie cocktail over the four days
  • Fresh gelato and cawfee

Downtown on George Street, visitors will find American flags draped over statues outside MMy Wood Wharf, which inside will be serving piccolo gelato cups with a single espresso for £5 during the takeover.

Mac ’n’ cheese will also be available, as will American craft beers including east coast brew Good Vibrations by NEPA for £7.90 per pint.

  • NYC flavours

Water Street’s Feels Like June is becoming Feels Like Brooklyn for the duration of the takeover and will be serving up NYC Bagels with pastrami, emmental cheese, pickles and mustard for £7 or with chives and cream cheese for £6.

The venue will also be hosting sets from its resident DJ from 4pm-9pm over the four days.

  • Free New York Sour

Order up the Classic American for £13 at Patty & Bun on Park Drive and customers will get either a free NY Sour or a can of Coca Cola with their burger. 

Hawksmoor is serving three of the best sellers from its actual New York restaurant until Sept 24
  • Cocktails for £10 each + a free one

Drawing on inspiration from its actual New York branch, Hawksmoor and its bar The Lowback will be offering a trio of the best drinks available at its US location for the special price of £10 each.

So that’s the Manhattans, Cosmos and Dirty Martinis sorted.

But wait, there’s more.

The venues will also welcome tables of up to four guests with a complimentary Big Apple Martini for all diners at lunch or dinner.

Bookings should be made via email to thelowback@thehawksmoor.com quoting NYC x Canary Wharf. Better still, both offers will be available until September 24, 2023 – an extra day after the takeover ends. 

  • Gelato pop-up

George Street restaurant Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is set to step outside its walls with a special pop-up throughout the takeover.

The venue’s gelato cart promises to serve up 100% Italian ice cream – one scoop for £4.50 and two for £6 in either waffle cones or paper cups.

Visitors can expect to choose from creamy mascarpone, Sicillian pistachio, raspberry sorbet and chocolate and hazelnut. There may even be a few bonus surprises from the staff.  

The skincare, haircare, fragrance, candle and gift brand will be taking over a corner of Wood Wharf for the NYC event.

Founded in Chelsea (New York City) in 2004, the company aims to create products that will work with all skin types, growing and expanding over the years to meet demand.

For the takeover, its portable cart will be offering samples and cards offering discounts at its Canary Wharf store in Cabot Place. Naturally, terms and conditions apply.

Read more: Sign up for the Santa Stair Climb at One Canada Square

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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