Always on the cutting edge of design, assembly and corporate conscience, IKEA converted a showroom to replicate an actual Syrian home in Damascus: 25-square meters of cinder block walls and meager furnishings.
At IKEA Slependen, the retailer’s flagship store in Norway, the lack of food, medicine and clean water in Syrian homes was communicated through the use of images and an appeal for a fundraising campaign to aid refugees by the Red Cross.
The installation, which ran from Oct. 17-31, attracted nearly 40,000 visitors weekly and raised 22 million euros for Red Cross efforts in Syria.
“It would have been easier to just put up wallpaper, but it wouldn’t have felt the same,” said art director Snorre Martinsen of POL ad agency, which created the installation, to Adweek. “People who had fled war themselves have told us, ‘This is how it feels’ and ‘I remember this.’ ”
While there was plenty of footage from Syria, noted Martinsen, replicating a Syrian home was more powerful because “nothing got close to the experience of visiting people in a war zone.”
“Placing a Syrian home next to all the Scandinavian homes was obviously a brave move from the warehouse, but it made it clearer than any TV commercial how crucial it is to donate and help.”
The IKEA Foundation has been doing its part for the global refugee crisis since 2013, when it released its flat-pack emergency shelter, Better Shelter. These modular refugee cabins have been deployed in innovative ways, customized to the need at hand.
“It is a real opportunity,” said Per Heggenes, IKEA Foundation CEO. “Because they are modularised, they offer a way of creating small health stations, as doctors did in Nepal, or creating temporary schools.”
With 65 million Better Shelters in use including in Ethiopia, Iraq and Nepal, the 17.5-square-metre module can be assembled without tools in four hours, provide secure shelter for five people and has an expected lifespan of three years. The cabins are solar-powered and can charge small devices and provide LED lighting.
“It’s like playing with Lego almost—you can put it together in different ways,” said Heggenes. “But a family could theoretically take it apart and take it home. They could then rebuild using local materials, and just use this as a framework.”
The IKEA Foundation is a separate, for-profit enterprise from IKEA stores, but synergies include expertise from IKEA engineers as part of the brand’s broader Brighter Lives for Refugees initiative.
Heggenes sees the Better Shelter product as part of a larger, interim solution.
“It requires quite a significant marketing and development process to get people to embrace a new solution. It is easier to embrace in theory, but when you are in the field—if you’re a camp manager, for example—and you have thousands of refugees crossing the border every day, you want to be able to erect as many temporary shelters as possible for people, and you want to feel comfortable with the solution.
Heggenes added, “That’s something that we didn’t think of initially. There is a sales process, a marketing process and training process required in order to get people to embrace a totally different solution.”
And then there’s still that self-assembly—both daunting and empowering.