By Nolan Giles
Can a big company be a nice company too? This is what we set out to investigate this issue as we ducked behind the doors of Ikea’s once-very-private headquarters (page 121). In the design world much attention is devoted to smaller brands that can localise their supply chain, promote sustainability and offer a very nice product at the same time. This type of company is easy to praise. Yet many of those applauding them will often do so wearing a garment designed by a fast-fashion brand with a questionable manufacturing record. It’s a confusing time to be a consumer of design. When affordability is a factor, cost and convenience can very quickly overpower your ethical shopping intentions.
The reality is that not all of us can afford to have every single one of the T-shirts in our wardrobe made from organic cotton or have our furniture carved from timber felled in nearby forests. But increasingly, younger generations are thinking more considerately about their purchases, even if they can’t always afford to do the most socially responsible thing. And this is where a brand like Ikea fits in.
Knowingly or not, Ikea has an influence on most of our lives (it has been estimated that one in 10 Europeans were conceived on an Ikea bed) and while it is not a perfect brand it is a progressive one. Its global growth might seem like it has been explosive but in reality the rise of its low-cost, easily assembled brand of Scandinavian design has been a pretty steady journey (it is 74 years old after all). Throughout this time the company has staked its reputation on staying ahead of the curve and today it is saying that it wants to grow up with (and open up to) its global audience.
By bringing the mass market along with it on a quest to become a sustainably minded, transparent company, Ikea’s biggest innovation as a design brand may still lay ahead.
Q&A – Angelene Chan
CEO, DP Architects
DP Architects designed numerous Singapore icons, including its Golden Mile Complex. The firm turns 50 this year and has grown from 80 people to more than 1,300 working worldwide.
What’s the legacy of the Golden Mile Complex, which your practice designed in 1974?
It was designed during the Metabolist period in Japanese architecture. We occupied three floors; you could see the sea from your drafting table. It was so much a part of the practice but we outgrew it. It’s kept its character, though today it’s mainly Thai-food vendors in there.
Your mall designs have been celebrated over the years. What’s next?
It’s about ensuring that a mall is not just a shopping area. The space needs to provide more: smells, tactility; things you can’t get from the internet.
As a Singaporean firm with an eye on Asia, which markets are you watching? We’re focusing on Indo-China this year. We’ve just opened an office in Bangkok and already have offices in Vietnam and Myanmar.
Vollversorgermarkt, Oldenburg-Kreyenbrück, Germany
A supermarket with character: that’s what German firm Neun Grad Architektur set out to create in Oldenburg-Kreyenbrück. Inspired by the neighbourhood’s building stock of the 1930s and 1950s, the red-brick building offers a new city focus. Its organic design – based around the plot’s trees – has an intuitive layout with the sustainable materials used reflecting the shop’s ethos.
Essential material: concrete by Progress
Viennese firm Feld72 developed innovative concrete for a housing complex in the South Tyrolean town of Eppan to blend in with the area’s existing architecture, working with Italian company Progress. The material has proved versatile and Feld72 plans to use it for a bigger project.
Mobile homes have always been an exercise in small-space living but not necessarily handsome design. That’s why Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak commissioned architect Kengo Kuma for its compact mobile house Jyubako. Kuma used hinoki and Japanese cypress inside and out; exterior walls have a durable waterproof coating while inside the wooden surfaces release a light fragrance that lingers in the pint-sized space.
The trailer comes with panel walls that fold out as windowsills and an entrance complete with steps. It’s well insulated so can be pitched up comfortably almost anywhere; a standard model starts at ¥3.5m (€29,000).
Design studio eoos’s office in Vienna is a piece of Austrian creative history: fashion designer Helmut Lang once occupied this space, as did well-known architecture firm Coop Himmelblau. “It’s a history that means something to us,” says Harald Gründl, who, along with Martin Bergmann and Gernot Bohmann, founded the company in 1995.
From the beginning the trio focused on furniture design but it wasn’t long until other branches of the business emerged, including working with Giorgio Armani on cosmetic displays and designing retail spaces for Adidas.
In 2008 the company made a sharp pivot toward socially oriented projects, including a sustainable toilet created for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and clever kitchen units to be used in one of Vienna’s largest refugee shelters.
“Eos was one of the four horses that carried Apollo’s sun chariot in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” says Gründl. He was born in the late 1960s and jokes that eoos comes from the “pre-digital” age. But for all the mythology the firm remains practical and hands-on, always making 1:1 models of every product during development (lately, though, with the help of a 3D printer).
Through the years the studio has cultivated long-term collaborations with the likes of Walter Knoll and Zumtobel. “We work with a few clients and have close relationships with them,” he says. “We deal well with people and design challenges; it’s what makes eoos special.”
B2 kitchen for Bulthaup (2008)
Mobile kitchen units based on the idea of a workshop. A utensil cabinet and a modular workbench integrate all kitchen activities.
Diversion toilet for Gates foundation (2012)
Designed on the invitation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; can be used in regions in which proper sanitation is difficult.
Crosshatch chair for Geiger and Herman Miller (2014)
Wood and parachute cords combine for this elegant chair.