Ikea’s design lab for living conjures future home concepts

Space10 in a trendy party of Copenhagen is a hub of art and design


On a dark, crisp Copenhagen night I feasted on microalgae soup, used a slingshot to eat carambola slices and sampled insect meatballs. But this wasn’t at Noma, the city’s restaurant known the world over for its culinary experimentation, it was a discursive – and delicious – event at Space10, Ikea’s new future living laboratory. Located in the city’s trendy meatpacking district and launched late last year, Space10 is a studio for designers, artists and thinkers from all over the world to create and test ideas to improve our future lives and homes, outside the usual constraints of a major retail corporation.

My first Space10 experience was Tomorrow’s Meatball, an event exploring how we might eat in the future, using a familiar form: the humble meatball. Ikea’s in-store restaurants sell one billion meatballs a year, and are adapting to new diets and regional expansions: soon Ikea will introduce a vegan meatball, catering both for the large vegetarian population of its newest market, India, as well as the growing numbers around the world adjusting their diets for moral or environmental reasons.

In fact, Ikea is working to adapt to a changing world, and Space10 is one such initiative. “We have an opportunity now to pitch what we dream of, in a way.

“We had so many ideas and so many ambitions, we thought we should set up a lab where we could actually test all these ideas, and create an open space for exploration and collaboration,” says Simon Caspersen, Space10’s co-founder and director of communications.

Göran Nilsson, Inter Ikea Systems manager of concept innovation says: “Exploration can happen in many different parts of Ikea but Space10 is one location where we are visible and where we can meet people such as students, artists, designers and the local community. We can open to the public and invite feedback, and from this city-centre location we can begin to really understand urban living.”

Space10 organises its activity into a series of themed “labs”, each exploring a different aspect of future urban life. According to Guillaume Charny-Brunet, Space10’s chief innovation officer: “Four times a year we will explore one theme, which will unfold through public events, exhibitions, workshops, hackathons and more.”

Urban health

Space10’s first lab was called Fresh Living, looking at how design might improve health in urban environments. Guillaume continues: “With half of the world calling the city their home right now and many more of us due to do so in the future, we are presented with more and more health challenges in the urban environment. So we thought, ‘what if design could help us adopt healthier habits?’”

This question really influenced the design of Space10 itself by emerging Copenhagen architecture practice Spacon & X who have exploited the space’s high ceilings and big windows and integrated flexible furniture and air-filtering plants throughout. A number of fast-paced, intensive workshops with students from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, a group of invited creatives from different disciplines from around the world and a designer-in-residence led to concepts and prototypes that looked at how to improve health in cities. Some of these outcomes serve as conversation starters or inspiration for further idea development. Others are surprising solutions to issues surrounding our own health, or indeed the health of our environment.

One such outcome was Heat Harvest, designed by institute students Vihanga Gore and Sergey Komardenkov, a tech table with the ability to soak up heat from the objects lying on it, such as coffee pots or laptops, and use it to charge devices placed on the table, like your smartphone, exploiting a relatively untapped, renewable resource. Will we see Heat Harvest or other Fresh Living products in a future Ikea catalogue? Quite possibly, says Guillaume. “If there is anyone who can mass produce some of these ideas, or just improve the capacity of some of the technology suggested in these projects, it is Ikea.”

Beyond products

But the point of Space10 isn’t to create Ikea product after Ikea product – there are already design centres and R&D labs worldwide for this: Space10 is designed to be an environment in which to experiment, speculate, make mistakes and ask questions. “Very often in a big company, innovation is used as a way to try out a new business model or to improve what is already done or to develop into a digital or technological advancement, but this is not the case with Space10. Here we do not obey this commercial agenda. That said, we can put some ideas on Ikea’s radar that, if brought to scale, could actually have a real impact on the world.”

The lab is exploring the idea of something we have long associated with Ikea: space-saving. As Guillaume says, “Space is a limited resource. Whether you look at your square meterage, or whether you look at the resources available on the planet, space is shrinking. And that calls for innovation, whether that means multifunctional, flexible solutions to make the best of the few square metres you get in a city, or whether it is about looking into a more circular type of design where you can use and reuse furniture or other resources.”

So we might see some radical new storage solutions in a future Ikea catalogue, and I ask Göran about the humble meatball in Ikea restaurants: “Maybe there will be a future meatball for Ikea but the meatball itself is not the main thing. The main thing is how we grow insight from talking about something familiar in a different way than we traditionally do, and how these conversations can help us to deliver our vision for a better life for the many.”

New meatballs or not, Ikea and Space10 certainly know how to make innovation sound appetising.

Follow the progress of the Space10 labs on space10.io

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