IKEA Unveils Robotic Furniture, The Urban Village of the Future & More

How can we make housing more affordable, livable and sustainable in the face of climate change, rapid urbanization and other pressing issues? IKEA has some ideas. The Swedish retailer just unveiled its upcoming collaborations and projects at its annual event, Democratic Design Days, and they range from a new modular way of building entire cities to robotic furniture for small spaces.

The Urban Village Project

SPACE10, IKEA’s global research and design lab, worked with EFFEKT Architects to develop an urban housing concept rolling together a wide variety of sustainable and equitable approaches as well as emerging technologies. The Urban Village Project “rethinks how we design, build, finance and share our future homes, neighborhoods and cities,” focusing on flexible homes built entirely from sustainable cross-laminated timber – and that’s just the beginning.

“Our cities are facing some of the biggest challenges to date—from rapid urbanization to aging populations, from a climate emergency to increasing feelings of loneliness and anxiety in our urban environments. On top of that, we experience rising and unpredictable housing prices in cities all around the world and the prospects are bleak. We need to almost double our cities in just a few decades to house a rising urban population—which creates a strong link between how we choose to evolve our urban areas and the fate of humanity. Therefore, we need to rethink our built environment, starting now.”

Not only are these houses based on IKEA’s signature flat-pack, modular design ethos, so they can easily be customized for the needs of individual residents and families, they’re designed for disassembly, unlocking “a circular material loop” so that almost all building components and materials can be disassembled and replaced, reused and recycled during and after the lifecycle of the building. They’d be pre-fabricated, mass-produced and flat-packed to drive down costs, and crucially, IKEA introduces new ideas for democratic access inspired by community land trusts and co-operatives.

“The Urban Village Project seeks to make everyday life more affordable. The idea is to maximise the advantages of living in a community that can pool and share resources. First, we’d introduce a monthly rate for all your essentials: rent, electricity, water, heating, maintenance and shared facilities. Secondly, we’d unlock better deals on daily needs like food, media, insurance, transport and recreation through flexible add-on subscriptions. Thirdly, each month every resident would have the option of buying ‘shares’ of real estate—to access ownership progressively and cash in later as the property value increases.”

“The Urban Village Project would enable more people to become homeowners by creating a form of housing co-operative. With significantly lower monthly rents and more disposable income, this unique legal setup would allow residents to buy ‘shares’ in the property—when they want to and when they can. This would get rid of expensive down payments upfront alongside interest rates which limit first time buyers from entering the housing market. Over time, the property would be owned by the community, and residents would be able to cash in on the profits.”

But sustainable and equitable modes of living don’t stop at how the structures themselves are designed, built and purchased or rented. Access to community is an important component, with the subscription-based housing model providing multi-generational co-living to promote a sense of well-being. Since the homes are so customizable, they’re accessible, as well. As older people age out of their homes, they can move into more accessible units in the same village, remaining a part of their neighborhood. Residents share access to local food harvesting, renewable energy and composting, and can choose to partake in communal dinners, shared daycare, urban gardening, fitness and other activities together; flexible subscription services provide transportation, insurance, media and recreation too.

Products Made of Ocean Plastic & Manufacturing Waste

IKEA plans to introduce more recycled materials into its own products, as well. The upcoming Musselblomma collection, a collaboration with Spanish designer Inma Bermúdez, incorporates plastic collected by Spanish fishermen in the Mediterranean sea into a series of polyester fabrics in vivid colors and patterns. The series takes visual inspiration from the source of these materials; you’ll find abstracted fish shapes, soothing blue-greens and corals throughout the collection of bags, cushion covers and tablecloths.

As part of its new initiative called “Better Air Now,” IKEA is also transforming a common manufacturing byproduct into tactile, organic woven items. Förändring (which means “change” in Swedish) is a collection of rugs, bowls, lampshades and baskets made with rice straws, a harvesting residue that’s commonly burned for disposal, contributing to air pollution and smog. Coming in deep shades of blue and black, these items are expected to be released by the end of the year.

Robotic Small Space Solutions

Since they’re already known for expertly packing a ton of function into tiny spaces, it was probably only a matter of time before IKEA got in on some robotic transforming furniture items. The brand is collaborating with MIT-based startup Ori Living to offer “Rognan,” an all-in-one room solution offering a trundle bed, movable walls, a sofa, storage and simple touch-screen operation so you can transform a living room into a bedroom within seconds with virtually no effort. Set to launch in Hong Kong and Japan in 2020, Rognan will undoubtedly be anxiously awaited by everyone who’s ever dreamed of enjoying this kind of functionality in their own spaces. Hopefully it won’t be long before it’s available everywhere else, too.