IKEA creates urban temporary forest to explore how a city can face future challenges
Inviting students, professors, and industry insiders to create a feeling of safety in an otherwise rough public space in order to make the area more pleasant. 
29 Jun 2022

To be able to build sustainable cities in the future we need to think radically different. This is according to Marcus Engman and many with him. After holding positions like head of design and marketing manager at IKEA, Engman is now chief creative officer at INGKA, the largest IKEA retail franchisee, and in charge of the company’s activation Skogen (The Forest) at the H22 city expo in the Swedish city of Helsingborg.

— We asked ourselves: How can a city meet the challenges of the future with its rapid changes while also building a sustainable city that requires big investments? One way that’s being tested is to work with more flexible solutions, such as creating mobile parks. In central Helsingborg, you can find temporary parks where trees can grow until they’re ready to be planted permanently. A mobile park is a flexible way to meet the challenges of the future and the rapid changes involved while also taking into account the long-term and costly investments a sustainable city demands. The trees have been selected to withstand the tough urban environment and the effects of climate change particularly well. So, we asked the Helsingborg municipality if we could borrow some 100+ trees to create an urban temporarily forest down in the harbour, and they said yes. That’s how The Forest was born. And by that we also gained the feeling of safety in an otherwise rough public space, making the area more pleasant. More trees mean improving the well-being of both people and the planet, he says, continuing,

— The reason why we created it is multi-purposed: the pandemic, mass migration, rapid urbanization, and the devastating impacts of the climate crisis act as a wake-up call. Add to the equation that some 1,3 billion people don’t even have a first home to move to, and you’ll get the whole picture. It raises awareness of how urgently we must protect the environment, our common values within society and the communities around us. That is why we want to explore how we can live together with nature, instead of exploiting it. With The Forest, we offer an in-town yet off-the-grid kind of experience for the visitors to relax and recharge. In our shared search for sustainable innovations, we have created a unique opportunity to prototype and test new ways of interacting with nature by designing and building up temporary dwellings. 

The Forest.

IKEA has invited students and professors from renowned schools like the ECAL in Lausanne, KADK in  Copenhagen, IKDC at Lund University, and MIT in Boston to create these nature dwellings in The Forest. 

— We’ve also extended the invitation to submit proposals to universities from all over the world in a 10-day sprint competition, called Open Design. They all had to design their dwellings according to our design philosophy, including form, function, sustainability, and at a low price, and a jury then picked three winning entries, which have been built on-site in the Forest. 

Tell us about the three finalists.

1 and winner: Returning to nature, Marcus Badman, Sweden

Marcus Badman (also in the top picture).

— Marcus is from Stockholm and his scene for his design is an island in the Stockholm archipelago where nature grows wild. That’s a rare thing to have access to — when living in a city you have little relationship to ”real” nature. And his design, ’the ritual of returning to nature’, starts with a widening perspective of the scenery. The participant takes a step up on a walking path and walks into nature from above the ground. The path directs the participant through the environment and gives a different and stronger experience of it. We in the jury agreed that this proposal gives a poetic and playful take that goes above imaginary boundaries while simultaneously maintaining a strong degree of buildability and simplicity — it is a design that invites to human interaction by allowing people to engage with one another.

Returning to nature.

2: Tree House, Emma Jurczynski, The United States

Emma Jurczynski.

— This proposal reconsiders the idea of a treehouse — building with nature, in nature. Inspired by a childhood dream for a treehouse, this playful structure enables a new relationship with the forest by elevating you into the canopies. Unlike a traditional treehouse, the stand-alone structure does not depend on being fastened to trees. Instead, it can be constructed anywhere, in any context. And that is the beauty of the open-source I mentioned since this treehouse is a streamlined system built from standardized wood. It’s a cheap, renewable, and accessible resource, making it an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable structure. The standardized wood enables materials to be re-used in the future when the structure is no longer in use. And then you have circularity built into it as well. A win-win solution, Engman states. He adds:

— This dwelling manages to combine a brave and exciting proposal with a sense of simplicity. It is unconventional yet functional and demonstrates a high degree of applicability in both urban and non-urban contexts — regardless of what a person may perceive as their local nature. The flexibility makes the dwelling useful in a variety of settings, across the globe, and for different uses. 

Tree House.

3. Cork Loop, Otis Sloan Brittain, Portugal/The United Kingdom 

Otis Sloan Brittain.

— The Cork Loop inspires people of all ages to explore and connect with the extraordinary natural environments that surround us through an adaptable modular shelter and reflect upon how humans can create industries that protect the ecosystems which sustain them. The compact and lightweight modular design makes it easy to transport and set up, opening up the possibilities for exploration. Modules can be combined in countless ways to form different structures which adapt to their environment. And the main material, cork, is a really good material — it is natural and can be re-used and re-used over and over again. That is sustainability. It’s simple and flexible with an interesting and well-thought use of materials which creates a loop-like building system that could travel around the earth and be developed, elaborated, optimised, and explored in a variety of contexts. And of course, we in the jury liked that it’s flat-packable, modular, and movable…

Cork Loop.