Future living and design democracy with IKEA’s research lab, SPACE10


If IKEA can be credited with bringing design to the world, then SPACE10 has our future in its hands. Founded in November 2015 as an external think-tank for IKEA, the Copenhagen research lab is dedicated to exploring how humankind might live in the next few decades – information that is then fed back to IKEA in myriad forms. With teams researching and experimenting around three themes: Circular Societies, Co-existence and Digital Empowerment, the lab is far from the traditional model of a lumbering trend-forecasting agency producing unrealistic visions of utopia. Relatively small, with a core team of 20 and an evolving team of freelance residents, it delves into realistic possible futures for our society and then presents its findings in art and design projects that aim to engage everyone, not just board members.

“We like to think we see patterns where others see chaos,” says Kaave Pour, creative director at SPACE10. “We start with playful research, explorations into big themes and trends, and work with people and communities in that field – experts, universities, start-ups, designers to unpack them. Then our job is to find the interesting patterns in that and move them forward into things we can actually design, build and test, to validate ideas and see if they’re ones we should bring to the masses. Instead of trying to solve everything in one big, complex solution, we break it down into smaller projects.”

Normally, Kaave says, from traditional research agencies you’d get “a big fat boring report and a Powerpoint presentation, full of graphs, stats and objectives,” which isn’t communicated to many people. “It’s often only a small group that knows about it, not the public. That’s a problem, because you can’t change things you don’t know about. We need people to know what we’re looking into, to spread and democratise the information. We want as many people as possible to engage with and understand the problems we’re facing in order to affect them.”

Having already landed in New York and Shanghai, its next large-scale, off-site research project is taking place in London during London Design Festival. Setting up camp in Protein Studios in Shoreditch, SPACE10 will be hosting a six-day event around the theme Exploring Spaces of Tomorrow. Several collaborators have been invited to take over the studios on each day, including: futures research studio FranklinTill; Central Saint Martins’ Spatial Practices and Architecture students; designers Anton & Irene; agency Propela; open-source architecture studio WikiHouse; pop-up location curators Appear Here; and material research designers Ma-tt-er. Each will be conducting events, installations, talks and workshops to research the future of space, from how we consider waste material, to automated homes.

“What we believe in is how we can find a way to create a better everyday life for people,” Kaave continues. “There are many levels and nuances to what a better everyday life could be, whether that’s more fun, joyful, sustainable, intimate, caring. Obviously one of the most important ones is sustainability, so we can keep on having a life on this planet, but we also believe there’s more to it than fixing the sustainable part. What we want to do is explore what future living could look like in the everyday life.”

One of SPACE10’s key areas of research is coexistence, which the London event aims to take on. “How are we going to live in cities in the future? 70% of the world will be living in urban areas, which is a huge increase, and a lot of these areas don’t even exist yet. We’ll probably need to build a city the size of New York every other month for the next 35 years in order to keep pace with the population.” This raises lots of questions – what happens when we all get a little closer? Loneliness often increases in cities, Kaave says, as well as pollution and stress. How do we design for social interaction but also spaces for privacy.

“There’s a cliche when we talk about the future,” he says. “It used to be a lot of old white men trying to imagine it, which has resulted in lots of stereotypes, all chrome and glass houses with people living until they’re 400 years old. We see a way more natural, intimate, social, private, healthy future that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of technology.” Having said that, Kaave refers to SPACE10’s other strand of research, Digital Empowerment, which admits that tech is here to stay, so we need to use it to our advantage. “How can we frame these gadgets and inventions to help us do what we want to do better, or connect people, rather than just gluing our eyeballs to screens.”

One of its current research projects taking place at the Copenhagen hub, under the Circular Societies strand, is surrounding the future of local food. The team is working with residents including a bio-engineer, a chef and a food designer, researching the potential future of how we could grow and eat sustainable, healthy food. It’s about the science and practicalities, but also the look and taste, because “we can talk a lot about strategy, vision, the technical solutions, the distribution, but in the end if it doesn’t taste good, people really don’t give a damn,” Kaave puts succinctly.

This summarises SPACE10’s work, tackling big, global issues with an overarching approach of creativity and what he calls “visual intelligence”. “Design can be an important tool to take big issues like climate change, pollution, and make them more visual so people can relate to them, rather than just scary headlines and big numbers,” he says.

“One of our favourite quotes in the office is by John Maeda, who used to be at MIT Media Lab, who says ‘Art is a question to a problem, and design is the solution to a problem’. You need to ask the right questions before you can design an answer.”

SPACE10’s Exploring Spaces of Tomorrow takes place at Protein Studios, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3EY from 18–23 September 2017.

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