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Beyond Swedish Meatballs: 5 Experiments in Architecture by IKEA

If one didn’t know better, they might think that IKEA’s sole contribution to the world of architecture is a liberal sprinkling of royal blue and lemon yellow boxes across the globe. They’ve brought a lot more to the flat-pack table than that though, and their latest playful addition is a 3D floor plan — or perhaps more accurately, a wall plan — in Clermont-Ferrand, designed to mark the opening of their thirtieth store in France.

The Scandinavian king of budget chic has carved out one of its showrooms and tipped it up, transforming it into the most stylish of climbing walls — the piece forms an interactive sculpture and a vibrant, multi-layered billboard for the company. The 30-foot-high wall is fitted with steps and grips, giving the public a novel (if a little strenuous) new way to browse the latest collection. Sofas and swing chairs, IKEA classics naturally, provide handy rest stops on the way up.

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Utilizing a vertical floor plan for advertising is not a new concept — back in 2000, Absolut Vodka’s Manhattan campaign featured a swanky apartment adhered firmly to one of its iconic bottles. So, is IKEA’s latest stunt a blatant piece of plagiarism? Of course not — the furniture for Absolut’s promotion was provided by the Swedish company as well. They really are taking over the world, one billboard at a time.

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While these installations go down as light-hearted, transient flirtations with architectural design, IKEA are no strangers to more expansive adventures within the industry: here are four of their more notable experiments to hit the headlines over the past few years ...

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IKEA Eco Town, East London

Looking to take advantage of the UK Government’s growing struggle to remedy London’s long-running housing shortage, IKEA stepped in with a proposal for Strand East — a 26-acre neighborhood incorporating shops, schools, a theater, and apartments for 6,000 people with varying incomes. The company’s foray into town-planning is undoubtedly their most ambitious venture to date, and includes just about everything a Londoner might need, except — curiously — an actual IKEA store.

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BoKlok Affordable Homes

Strand East does, however, include the company’s flagship low-cost residences, named BoKlok, and developed in collaboration with Swedish construction group Skanska. The houses have been built in over 100 developments in Sweden since 1996, and champion the idea of flexible, pre-fabricated templates for flats that give buyers a choice of architectural style without blowing their budget. Fast-forward to 2012, and IKEA flat-pack homes have arrived on US shores in the shape of...

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Ideabox Homes

... pre-assembled pre-fabs. The “Aktiv” flat-pack home debuted in Portland a couple of years ago, with collaborators Ideabox boasting: “It’s your own personal euro designer flat ... only where you want it!” Often lambasted for their fiendish assembly instructions, IKEA have banished this issue with Aktiv — they worked with pre-fab specialists, integrating kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom fixtures within a unit that can be delivered on the back of a trailer in just one or two pieces. The interiors are customizable in terms of colors and surface finishes, and the prototype's exterior is clad with timber and metal panels in yellow and gray tones — no IKEA blue in sight, thankfully.

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Solar Powered Shelter For Syrian Refugees

IKEA have long been involved with humanitarian work, with their foundation raising funds to help children and families in the developing world for many years. It seemed only natural, then, for the company to dive into the complex issue of refugee housing, designing a form of hi-tech tent, lo-tech cabin that could be used to help Syrian people fleeing to Lebanon during the conflict of the past three and a half years. The units include lightweight solar arrays and insulated wall panels, and should cost just $1,000 when mass-produced.

From the frivolous to the fundamental, IKEA have contributed to the field in a wide variety of ways —those famous meatballs suddenly seem like tiny drops in an enormous, royal blue ocean of ideas.

Right, time to start building that bookshelf I’ve been putting off for weeks ...

Yours exasperated,

The Angry Architect

Images via Architizer