‘IKEA’ cities

‘Design should be universal and governed by the rule of form follow function’ is a comment about design that we hear very often.

This conception of design started to be widespread at the beginning of the industrial revolution. The pioneers of modernism preached this idea for the last half century. Fifty years later, this trend resulted in cities becoming generic. From the tall rising building, to the shops furniture and street lamps, the content that contributes to the experience of a city has more or less become universal.

IKEA (source: http://www.designscene.net/2012/01/ikea-campaign-auge-hq.html)

IKEA is an example of worldwide company. Its name resonates often when discussion about DIY furniture and Interior decoration take place. It is known for being providing good quality products at an affordable price. Its friendly marketing approach has made it widely acceptable to the market. By showcasing the possibilities of simple design tips in many different configurations, customers were given the flexibility to choose what suits them most.

The commercial success by brand such as IKEA, has further intensified the process of replication and generalization. If you walk into a coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur, it is almost impossible not to find at least one IKEA product. IKEA is not to be blamed, but it is an undeniable fact that the availability of such products has indirectly contributed to the replication of the same ideas. Customer bought IKEA’s products hoping to achieve the same experience they felt inside IKEA showcase spaces.

Looking back at history, the situation was much different then. Each place used to have its own set of unique experience to offer. At first glance, the architectural experience itself used to be distinction point of cities, pretty obvious when comparing about the visual panorama in Eastern and Western ones. Hearing locals conversing in alien language and tasting foods never tried before, these elements contribute to make certain the idea of not being any longer at home. But small things make the experience of each city exclusive and peculiar, from serving of rice in a ceramic bowl, to using chopsticks as oppose to spoon and fork, these little experience is what makes the experience an exception.

However, as cities grow young individuals started bringing new ideas in, taking inspiration from abroad. In this way, cities are progressively loosing its identity. As oppose to their older counterpart, young creative individuals are vastly influence by the outside world. These small ventures will continue to grow. Sooner or later, it will create dispute between the city’s past and present. Creating opposing sides that offer conflicting adventure for visitor’s indulgence.

Le Corbusier, Design for ‘Le Ville Radieuse,’ 1924. (source: http://howcreativeswork.com/category/architecture/)

It is undeniable that cities are becoming more and more generic. As such, more emphasis has to be put in preserving local identity against generic composition. Luckily, there are individuals who are pioneering such ideas. Currently, there is relatively small amount of people acting towards this direction. The power of their action needs time to be felt as strong as it is, But, it is certain that there will be more of such effort in appreciating traditions.

‘We throw in extra parts just to mess with you’ is one of the slogan used by IKEA to attract customers. With more copies of its catalog printed each year than the Bible, the slogan highlight how IKEA keep their line of product fresh for its worldwide fans. By allowing some degree of uncertainty, their customer can customize the product to make it uniquely theirs. Using the same principle in understanding people wants, cities and the experience it has to offer should be different from one another. Although the need of global conformation need to be addressed, preserving identity should be a key point for designers to be kept in mind. Just like how IKEA allow for their products to be customized uniquely, a city should also offer unique contents that creates one-of-a-kind experience. As people directly and indirectly involved in the growth of cities, If we can be a bit more sensitive and critical in this issue, the experience of the cities will surely be one to look forward too.

Author: Wan Ahmad Faiz