You may remember earlier this year when IKEA and Space10 (that’s IKEA’s future-living lab in Copenhagen) debuted the Growroom – a DIY ‘vertical garden’ designed to maximise space and light for ideal growing conditions, using clever design to provide optimal light and water for weeks worth of plants and vegetables.

Spherical ‘farm’ meets relaxing sanctuary, people can literally step inside the Growroom to smell an abundance of herbs and plants, while getting a taste of a future where food is produced in a sustainable manner and closer to consumption.

Practical? Of course. Ingenious Swedish design? Always (it’s IKEA after all.) But what does something like the Growroom mean for our rapidly increasing population? Growing food closer to cities is but one piece of the puzzle, and new research from IKEA Australia suggests that despite our population being set to grow to over 70 million in the next hundred years, only a third of Australians will be ready for the new and challenging living scenarios an increased population like this would create.

The IKEA AUSTRALIA PEOPLE & PLANET POSITIVE REPORT 2017, released next week at a two-day long shared dining experience in Millers Point in Sydney to coincide with the Australian debut of the Growroom, suggests that the Australian communities of the future will rely heavily on shared living spaces and ‘co-living’, while a rising population will see an increase in high-rise housing, and mass migration to urban areas created solely to accommodate this rapid growth. It’s a lot to get one’s head around.

And while the Growroom is already shifting how we think about sustainable living, IKEA and SPACE10 aren’t stopping there. Simon Caspersen, Director of Communications at SPACE10, spoke to us about the evolution of the SPACE10 Growroom and its part in IKEA’s movement towards sustainable living, what ‘co-living’ will look like in a not-too-distant future Australia, and the importance of sustainability in a world that’s growing and consuming natural resources at an unprecedented rate.

The Growroom seems like such a simple idea, but it speaks volumes on the growing trend of urbanisation. What are the major issues and challenges of urban living right now, and how do the projects which IKEA and SPACE10 are working on help to combat them? The Growroom is obviously a very good start.

At SPACE10, we’ve established a range of ‘labs’ based on five macro-trends that we’ve defined and identified [that] we believe will lead to seismic changes in society and in people lives: accelerating urbanisation, demographic shifts, political and economic shifts, lack of natural resources, and technological breakthroughs.

Humans are flocking to cities in large numbers like never before. Not long ago, 30 percent of us lived in cities; today it’s about half the world’s population. We’re already experiencing how this increasing demand for affordable housing has pressing issues in major cities today, and this is just the beginning. Predictions estimate that urban populations will increase from 4 billion to nearly 7 billion over the next 30 years.

In the decade to come, we’ll see some explosive population growth in some countries and sharp decline in others. Countries like Japan, Germany, Italy and USA are already becoming some of the world’s oldest. Add to that the declining birth rates, meaning there are fewer young people to pay for the care of the elderly. Concurrently, other societies are young and fast-growing. Africa is one of the youngest regions in the world and it will continue to be so in the decades to come, which introduces some other challenges as a lot more people that need to be fed, housed, educated and employed for their full potential to be realised.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen shifts in the global economic power balance from West to East, as well as growing middle classes in emerging economies. This mean we live longer, under much better conditions, and become better educated. We see a strengthening of women’s rights, and widespread use of varying communication technologies, and as a result, individual empowerment will continue to accelerate substantially during the next 15-20 years.

The demand for resources will grow substantially in coming years with growing populations and new consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. The world will need 50 percent more energy, 40 percent more clean water and 35 percent more food within the next 15 years. The challenge is that while populations, economies and resource demands grow, the size of our planet remains the same, and we can’t continue to race through our planet’s finite resources. All the evidence suggests that if we continue at our current rate, we’ll soon need a second planet.

The great news though is that we’re smart, innovative and connected, and every hour of every day, breakthroughs are happening on the frontiers of research and development which make us far better equipped to take on these challenges. The pace of technological change is increasing exponentially. The perpetual flow of ideas and innovations creates ever more powerful enabling technologies, where the potentials are only limited only by the human imagination.

Why has IKEA has taken such a step-forward in working to create the sustainable communities of tomorrow?

IKEA has always had a focus on sustainability – it’s one of the company’s guiding principles as part of the Democratic Design process and is all about the right combination of form, function, quality and sustainability, all at a low price.

IKEA started with a vision of creating a well-designed life for everyone, not just those who could afford designer furniture. This meant they had to reduce costs at every corner to make it affordable for as many people as possible. A key component in keeping prices down was to make the best use of resources. This means IKEA began learning 60 years ago – before sustainability was a buzz word, and now it’s a core part of the company. 

 

Back to the Growroom – is locally-grown food a long-term alternative to the current global food model? 

Not entirely, but as a supplement. Farming within cities is already booming. People grow food in their apartments, on rooftops, and in community gardens. IKEA has just presented an indoor gardening series that lets you grow your own lettuce and herbs in water, enabling people to become small scale farmers. We are pushing the vanguard of a very exciting movement – cities starting to feed themselves.

New technologies have made it possible to take urban farming a step further. Enabled by hydroponic systems, artificial lights and computerised automation we can build high performance indoor agriculture systems, where plants grow up to 3 times faster than in a field, using 20 times less water, producing much less waste, and without the need for soil or sunlight.

But I also believe that it will be combined with alternative sources for protein, so algae, insects and lab grown meat will become a much bigger part of our diet in the future. And it has to. Like it or not, our diet and food production system is becoming a problem for everyone on the planet. 

But do you see this working in Australia? We’re already seeing the effects of urbanisation here, particularly in Sydney. 

The Growroom is just a small answer to a very big and complicated question, but it represents something we strongly believe in. We envision a future where people play a different role in their communities. Instead of being just passive consumers, we can become producers of our own cities and everyday needs and aspirations. The Growroom is a symbol this new era by offering open sourced food producing architecture, which empowers people locally and offers a better, smarter and more sustainable way of producing and consuming.

Did aspects of the Growroom change during development? 

Well, it started started as an architecture competition that we launched together with a Danish art fair called CHART. We wanted to explore how cities can feed themselves through food producing architecture. We received a bunch of proposals, and the winners were two Danish architects, Sine Lindholm and Mads Ulrik Husum, who created The Growroom as a one-off pavilion for the festival. The idea back then was only to spark conversations about this local food production through this beautiful installation.

The Growroom ended up sparking excitement from Taipei, to Helsinki, from Rio de Janeiro to San Francisco, where people reached out and wanted to buy it or exhibit the Growroom. But we didn’t feel it made sense to promote local food production and then start a centralised production of The Growroom and ship this large structure across oceans and continents.

So, we tapped into the potential of digital fabrication, went back to the drawing board and designed an open source version, so we could send the digital design files instead of the physical one and let people build it themselves locally using local materials.  It took quite a lot development stages because we wanted it to be as accessible as possible for as many as possible. The building process shouldn’t require any formal skills or heavy tools, it should be made from only one material that could be affordable for most communities and the assembly should be intuitive for anyone to handle, which obviously presents some challenges, but I’m so happy with the result.

 

All you need is two rubber hammers, 17 sheets of plywood, and a visit to your local maker space [which can be found in almost any major city in the world] to have the pieces cut.

It offer a piece of ‘pause’-architecture in our high paced societal scenery and supports our everyday sense of well-being by creating a small oasis, where we can relax, socialise and re-connect with nature. The overlapping slices ensure that water and light can reach the vegetation on each level, without reaching the visitor within and thereby functions as a growth activator for the vegetation and shelter for the visitor. The Growroom has already been downloaded 20.000 times and is popping up in cities around the world, which is thrilling, because people are starting to grow their own food right on their doorstep!

 

How do you think the future of housing and community will differ if we start factoring in the different aspects of co-living? 

People on an average income, and not to mention students, are having a more and more difficulty finding affordable housing in our cities. In some places, like New York, London and Tokyo, it can be almost impossible! As a consequence, the spaces we live in become smaller and smaller and some people are changing the way they live. Co-living is becoming increasingly more attractive to urban dwellers facing urban reality. If we look at companies like The Collective, Open Door and WeLive it, becomes very clear that something is moving.

Co-living gives people an opportunity to live in an attractive neighbourhood without sacrificing perks like common areas, in-home laundry, maybe even a gym, a rooftop farm, and other attractive facilities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford in this new urban landscape. But it’s not just about affordable housing. Some co-living spaces aren’t all that cheap! It’s about how we expect a higher level of convenience in life.

The attractiveness of co-living is a result of the fact that more people live single lives. ‘Single life’ in high income countries is already common, but we now see that single households are the fastest growing type of household group in the low and middle income countries. This mean people live as singles, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are interested in living alone. You might assume that cities are the antidote to loneliness – full of people, buzzing hubs of culture and life – and yet, studies show that a lot of people in cities feel increasingly more detached – we don’t have the same sense of community where we live. We don’t say hi to our neighbours and streets are filled with anonymous faces.  Co-living is a great opportunity to live in your own space but still be closely connected with other people, build new relationships, and have a social life.

 

Do you foresee more SPACE10s around the world soon?

We don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, but yes, for sure! We have held pop-ups in Shanghai and New York, and next month we are popping up for 6 days in London. SPACE10 is not just a physical space ,but also a digital space consisting. We are part of several communities online where we meet and interact with like-minded people. Everyone is more than welcome to join!

IKEA brings the Growroom to Sydney Aug 16-17.

A sleek, sustainable, family home in the heart of the South African wilderness, take the tour of this stunning eco-friendly design: