“Whether we raise questions about the control of land use, planning of transportation networks, regulating of student housing or otherwise speculate on extreme scenarios to shape the future, it all comes down to dealing with where we stand today. IKEA’s role in the creation of a democratic society can, just as city planning itself, be approached from different perspectives. One thing is certain; whatever its organisational strategy is – it’s working! In the process of house-making, IKEA provides a flexible, affordable, DIY system that has been appropriated globally and the furniture retailer continues to top consumer markets. It is worth considering how an IKEA strategy could be applied to urban place-making; to allow ‘rooms’ for innovation and contribute to a positive experience and development of the city. By looking at the everyday habits of the city, its existing resources and desires, we can begin to imagine more customized ways of improving the quality of life for communities and individuals.The most extreme conditions have their origins in the conventional; the ordinary pushed beyond reasonable constraints. IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer, has made its business the redefinition of the ordinary. In products that present “good design” in inexpensive, do-it-yourself packages that bring the benefits of clean living through to the masses, the company has contributed to a revolution in residential lifestyle. Liberating the home from the tyranny of the plan, IKEA outfits anyone with tools to subvert architectural program, allowing us to sleep in the office, eat in the bedroom, or work in the kitchen.” /Amela

What would an urbanism of IKEA look like? In fact, the company is experimenting with just such a question already, leading development projects in Hamburg and London. Unlike its approach to the home, IKEA’s projects for the city are far less revolutionary, relying on essentially conservative modes of planning spaces and accommodating movement and activities. An example of IKEA’s urban potential can be better found in Shanghai, where the local IKEA has become, inscrutably, a site for middle-aged matchmaking. The shop’s relaxed atmosphere, diverse spaces, crowds of patrons are all cited by vistors seeking out true love.

“Before we set up an isolated area for them, they occupied the seats in the dining area for a long time, and thus other guests could not find a seat,” Shen Jinhua, an employee, told the Telegraph. This informal appropriation of space on the basis of loose affiliations between activities and furnishing suggests a truly revolutionary approach to planning: one based on empowering citizens to create the environments they need where and when they want them, to participate in the activities they seek.

“If people can run co-housing projects then they could definitely be a part of co-city, co-space and co-park projects. Would this encourage city planning offices to create a more accessible system for engagement in the city? What if people were able to design flexible urban space and furnishings by themselves? Considering the catalogue of IKEA as the guidelines of urban design, we suggest a planning tool accessible to everyone. With micro- and macro-scale urban interventions organized to help people participate in the planning process at various levels” /Justina

By studying how IKEA organizes and markets products through its catalog and its stores, and pushing this hyper-reality of the ordinary to the scale of the city, we uncover new extremes.

“How far should a government go in outsourcing services? An extreme scenario in city planning would be to leave everything to be regulated by the market. With IKEA’s unique organizational structures as a starting point, we raise questions about the relationship between urban development and private investments and about the roll of the individual in urban planning. City planning by the government is needed, the state as the major participant in allowing long term investments to happen. A more flexible system that allows for individuals to make interventions in forming the city is also necessary to complement this role. There is something in the IKEA model to learn from”/Anna

IDEA Catalogue is a proposal for an urban plan for Stockholm based on the spatial logic of IKEA. Calling for a city that is dense, walkable, vibrant and heterogeneous, the plan allows individuals to do urbanism themselves within a framework that that is flexible and accessible. The exhibition of the IDEA Catalog is intended to itself generate the content of the plan. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to complete of instruction sheets for various urban instruments: from the assembly details for a temporary park to the application paperwork for a small business loan; and to plan out various urban “rooms” through city by appropriating underused spaces or sites.

“In terms of sustainability and city-quality, we want to aim for a walkable city structure. What makes a city more attractive for pedestrian traffic is density and diversity of experiences. A monotonously scaled city doesn’t invite walking and inspire slower speeds. A smaller scale and more input for the pedestrian drives the informal development of more activities In the street. The IKEA experiment should not be understood as a direct transfer of the shop into the city, but as a new way of providing and connecting activities and experiences in the city.”/Sigrid

Text by Jonathan D Solomon, quotes by Sigrid Marie Poulsen, Justina Biekšaitė, Anna Kulin & Amela Halilović.

The group IDEA catalogue: Jonathan D. Solomon, Sigrid Marie Poulsen, Justina Biekšaitė, Anna Kulin & Amela Halilović. 

About the workshop leader

Jonathan D Solomon – is an American architect, editor and curator. His work explores public space and the contemporary city, through design projects such as Ooi Botos Gallery, a shophouse in a Hong Kong street market converted into a gallery for contemporary Chinese photographic art; research projects such as his 2004 book 13 Projects for the Sheridan Expressway, the 26th volume in the Pamphlet Architecture series; curatorial projects such as 2010’s Workshoppingin the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale; and publication projects through 306090 books, where he has served as a founding editor since 2001. Solomon has taught design at the City College of New York and, as a Banham Fellow, at the University at Buffalo, as well as the University of Hong Kong, where he led the Department of Architecture as Acting Head from 2009 to 2012. He is currently Associate Dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University.