IKEA’s research and design lab in Copenhagen released a book this month on ways we can improve our cities. They start by recognizing we’re presently facing two global crisis: a pandemic and catastrophic climate change. Their proposals to address these two issues within cities is titled The Ideal City and they outright admit that top-down urban planning is inherently problematic. The goal of the book is to demonstrate that change is possible, it’s happening, and we can make the world better by improving our lived environments.
Making Cities Safer
This chapter proposes that in addition to lowering crime, cities need to protect their citizens against extreme weather events and provide a healthy environment that fosters physical and mental well-being. It highlights a small project that makes a big impact: the Tokyo Toilet, a series of 17 public restrooms designed by renowned architects in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. By incorporating colored glass that’s transparent when the lavatory is empty and opaque when in use, Pritzker Prize–winning architectShigeru Ban’s designaddresses two basic concerns people have with public toilets: cleanliness and how to know if someone’s inside.
Ikea’s charitable arm has used the expertise of the cheap furniture manufacturer to design a better housing unit for refugees with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Hopefully these designs will help people around the world who are living in poor conditions.
The Refugee Housing Unit started working on a project to develop emergency shelters in 2008. Johan Karlsson, Project Manager at the Refugee Housing Unit, recalls: “The Indian Ocean tsunami was still a fresh memory, and ‘Building back better’ was the motto among our humanitarian partners—meaning that humanitarian aid should not only contribute to saving lives, but also to creating sustainable communities after disasters.”
The Refugee Housing Unit realised that, with their design and manufacturing expertise, they had vital skills to contribute to the process. “By adding our and our partners’ knowledge in product design and production, we were certain that we could help humanitarian agencies create a shelter which would represent better value for money and at the same time significantly improve the lives of refugees and displaced people, as well helping communities be more resilient to disasters.”
Ikea is putting $75 million into selling solar panels. Hopefully the company that popularized cheap furniture can do the same for cheap solar power.
Of course, that’s a very tall order. But IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’s son Peter is an avowed green tech believer, and Stenebo’s Greentech will put about US$75 million into at many as ten companies in five different areas: solar technology, energy conservation, water saving products, alternative lighting, and new product materials. Scandinavian companies are Greentech’s first focus. Nearly all of these areas are ones we would welcome the IKEA low-cost approach to, although setting up solar roof panels with just the simplistic diagrams and little Allen keys that accompany IKEA’s usual do-it-yourself furniture seems something of a stretch. Then there’s the problem than many installations require building and other permits. But IKEA’s fabulous distribution network of 270 global superstores would mean green tech for the global masses, a welcome development.