IKEA x SPACE10: The Future of Living
Simon Caspersen in conversation with Annelise Keestra
Photos supplied by Space10
This conversation has been edited. The full article can be read in issue 1
A Copenhagen-based innovation hub is driving IKEA forward by looking at everything from the future of those meatballs to redefining the way we share our living spaces.
Tucked away in the design-driven city of Copenhagen, Denmark, sits the innovation hub Space10, a ‘future-living lab’ that has just celebrated its two-year anniversary. So far ‘so Copenhagen’, after all, this is a city where iconic design is important to both residents and visitors alike. However, Space10 is a little bit different to your average design lab. Yes, they come armed with an overarching vision to define new systems of designing for a better and more sustainable way of life. But, this forward-thinking design hub is also an offshoot of the mothership of all Scandi-design: IKEA.
Established in 2015 as IKEA’s independent external innovation lab, Space10 is responsible for detecting potential future shifts and limits around the periphery of anything the Swedish brand might be focusing on, and be impacted by. Simon Caspersen, Space10’s communication director, explains that their investigative mission is to understand global challenges and conceptualise possible (often local) solutions through the definition of key research themes and the initiation of specialised labs, each one responsible for designing playful and critical projects, ranging from the future of meatballs or algae to conversational interfaces and the redefinition of co-living spaces.
We caught up with Caspersen who talked us through what exactly Space10 do.
Annelise Keestra: How does the collaboration with IKEA operate? Do they have a direct input on what you are or what you should be researching or do they just fund the projects?
Simon Caspersen: We are an interface, a capability for them to make sure they anticipate the future. Of course the projects we are exploring are related to IKEA, but it is a completely new business area: we are looking at concept innovation, at what they could be in five, 10 years from now. What they really needed was an outside view, to have somebody who is not restrained by what is possible and what isn’t.
Space10 is defined by the three key research themes of digital empowerment, circular societies and co-existence. How do you tackle them?
The themes are the overall focus that each potential lab, whether current or new, will tap into. Right now, we have four labs: Local Food (formerly The Farm), Natural Interfaces, Shared Living and Digital Fabrication. The themes are more long-lasting, while the labs are short-lived.
Each lab can tap into the three main themes from their individual perspective but do they also collaborate with one another?
Always, and not necessarily on purpose. For example, we have The Farm looking into food and hydroponic systems. We have a bioengineer, a farmer and a chef. The bioengineer obviously knows how to operate these very complicated systems but then, if we want to upscale this, you shouldn’t need a PhD in biology to grow your own food in the same way. I’m not interested in learning about pH levels and lighting conditions and humidity, I just want some really tasty, sustainable salad. So, it needs to be very simple. This leads to the bioengineer implementing sensors, to see how the plants are doing. But again, a chart is not really interesting either – I hate spreadsheets and don’t want to see numbers – so he comes up with the idea to make a beautifully designed overview, but it’s still not intuitive enough. So, then the guys working with conversational interface say: ‘Why not make The Farm talk?’, so you could actually communicate with the plants, hear how they are doing and if they need anything. In that sense, these two labs collaborate.
You publish your research and projects through pop-up events, exhibitions, talks, products. How do you structure and define the output of everything that you do?
A lot of these things are almost like tools for us. The Space Program for example: instead of having a meeting with an expert on something we are interested in, we do a whole program around it. We try not to work in a vacuum. That means that when we are interested in, say, a more sustainable sausage or in hacking protein, instead of a boring 300-page report, we make what we call ‘playful research’. We visualise trends, and instead of just having us in the audience, we invite people in and present it. It allows us to discuss and reflect very early on in terms of collaboration. The whole reason why we share as much as possible is not only to gain instant feedback on everything that we do but also because we are dependent on residencies to actually come in, use the resources and collaborate with us. Increasingly, people know what we are interested in and start reaching out.
Have you started spreading out some of these new systems you are designing, especially the ones on food production? For example, is The Farm to be found in any restaurant kitchens now? This is on a very small scale, but we are supplying some of the restaurants in our neighbourhood with some of our produce. But the thing is that, at this stage, we shouldn’t get involved because then we would be diving into the implementation of these systems. IKEA just invested a lot of money in AeroFarms, which is the biggest hydroponic start-up in the world, so then it’s sort of up to them to develop.
What do you have in the pipeline now? Any new collaborations or new projects? Always! One project that is coming up soon is a collaboration with 25 students at Central Saint Martins, London, where we are having them designing a co-living space for 2030. Basically, students are trying to design a way out of their own challenges of finding affordable housing. We really like to collaborate with students, because they are not really ruined by a commercial way of thinking, so it’s a bit more open.
We have some architects right now working on a house that we can open source. And then of course continuous research around food: we are curious to see how we can create a much more circular system, also within SPACE10 itself. Always thinking ahead, SPACE10 is persistently defining new areas in sustainable futures that are yet to be explored, from natural interfaces to shared living: “At the moment we are researching distributed energy, again something really connected with the home,” Caspersen summarises. “Projects around sustainability really travel, and a lot of new people start to engage with it. Us looking into these themes just makes IKEA ready for the future - even though it’s sometimes speculative, it can come sooner than we anticipate.”