A couple months back, a handful of major news outlets, in some kind of lingonberry-induced daze, erroneously reported that home furnishings retailer/hook-up joint IKEA had entered the North American prefabricated home market with a line of modular abodes called “Activ.”
In reality, Ideabox, a green prefab firm out of Oregon, had launched a new 745-square-foot home and, in collaboration with the Portland outpost of Sweden’s most beloved export (save for the national bikini team and a certain Eurovision Song Contest-winning pop group), appointed it with IKEA interiors. IKEA quickly set out to make it clear that the company was not designing, manufacturing, or selling prefab homes as it had been suggested. Anna, the friendly IKEA helpbot, had no comment on the matter.
Although IKEA may not be launching prefab homes in the U.S., the company is very much indeed plotting to launch an entire neighborhood in East London’s Stratford district. Well, it's kind of being launched by IKEA. The mixed-use redevelopment project, Strand East, is the brainchild of Poland-headquartered LandProp Services, the real estate development arm of Inter IKEA Group, the Netherlands-based entity that owns the Swedish company’s intellectual assets. Or something like that (seriously, IKEA's corporate structure is a touch complex).
I first caught wind of Strand East in October of last year and slowly but surely, more details are emerging about the 1,200-home mini-city to be located on a 26-acre swath of defunct industrial land just south of Olympic Park. Just recently, the Globe and Mail published one of the more detailed articles on the project, and if anything can be gleaned from it, it is this: Strand East will not resemble a giant IKEA store but will boast the hallmarks of Scandinavian urban planning: cleanliness, carlessness and control.
Strand East is being developed with affordability in mind and will also be environmentally sustainable as the homes — all 1,200 units will be rental properties fully owned by IKEA, a “mega-landlord with a penchant for neat design and social order” as the Globe and Mail puts it — will be energy-efficient. Keeping in line with the Swedish tradition of keeping things delightfully neat 'n’ tidy, Strand East will also feature an underground rubbish removal system that whisks away trash via a network of suction tunnels. And as mentioned, the development will be nearly vehicle-free thanks to a giant underground parking structure that clears space above for pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, bus lanes, and an ample amount of public and private outdoor space including interior courtyards, piazzas, and riverside parks. The whole shebang will be powered by a hydroelectric power plant, which isn't entirely shocking given IKEA's deep commitment to renewable energy.
Harald Müller, head of LandProp, tells the Globe and Mail:
We are in keeping with the Ikea philosophy: We don’t want to produce for the rich or the super-rich; we want to produce for the families, for the people. Our approach must be to get the right housing and office prices while delivering very good quality at the same time. We want to be smart enough in our design that we can offer the product for a reasonable price.
Although 40 percent of the housing options within the new "SNEIGHBJÖRHÅÅD" will be large enough to accommodate growing families, don’t expect a massive crèche complete with a plastic ball pit located smack dab in the middle of it all. And, as the Globe & Mail points out: “There will not be Poäng armchairs adorning the living rooms and Billy bookcases covering the walls. The houses will not require Allen keys to assemble. Meatballs in lingonberry sauce will not be served at the restaurants. And there will not, the company insists, be an Ikea store anywhere in or near the neighbourhood.”
Here's what Strand East will entail in addition to affordable, energy-efficient rental townhouses and apartments housing around 6,000 tenants: About 500,000 square feet of commercial office space geared towards creative types and tech-based business along with a 350-room Marriott hotel, storefronts for indie retailers and restaurants, a health care facility, a school, and water taxi landings that take advantage of the development's Venice-esque locale in between two revitalized waterways.
Control of Strand East will be rather rigid and deliberate with IKEA acting as a sort of quasi-municipal government with a long-term interest in the project. The company, of course, is looking to make cash from the venture but in a sustained manner. We’d have a very good understanding of rubbish collection, of cleanliness, of landscape management. We would have a fairly firm line on undesirable activity, whatever that may be. But we also feel we can say, okay, because we’ve kept control of the management of the commercial facilities, we have a fairly strong hand in what is said in terms of the activities that are held on site," project manager Andrew Cobden tells the Globe and Mail. “... We are acting as a long-term investor, we are equity-driven, so we are acting very differently from a developer,” adds Müller.


Lots more on this intriguing project — a fastidiously governed, eco-friendly rental community in London owned by a Polish property developer that's overseen by a Dutch company birthed by a Swedish home furnishings behemoth (phew!) — over at the Globe and Mail including a clever, IKEA manual-style infographic that lays out all the steps to "building a neighborhood." You can also keep up to speed on Strand East over at the project's official website. Although planning applications were submitted only several weeks ago and are pending approval, construction of one section of Strand East, the development's "social hub" known as Dane's Yard, is already underway and can be viewed on on a live webcam feed. It's expected that construction of the other sections will commence in 2013 and reach completion about five years later.


Would you want to live in a planned community owned and operated by IKEA? Or would you prefer Pier 1 Imports as a landlord? Ethan Allen, perhaps?



Via [Globe and Mail], [Co.Exist]



Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

IKEA-helmed housing development under way in London
Not content just sleeping on an IKEA mattress and preparing your meals with IKEA cookware? At Strand East, a mixed-use redevelopment project in London, the Swed