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Why Ikea’s design lab is setting up shop in Delhi

Copenhagen nonprofit Space10 will partner with locals to explore meaningful solutions to problems such as affordable housing and the climate crisis.

In a hip neighborhood of South Delhi called Chhatarpur, there’s an industrial area called the Dhan Mill Compound that has been transformed into a creative hub where gorgeous murals painted by local artists grace the sides of buildings. Later this month, Ikea will open a research and design lab there which will remain open until April 2020. The lab, called Space10, will be devoted to coming up with sustainable solutions designed to make everyday life better for people around the world.

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Ikea launched Space10 as a nonprofit in 2015. The first hub was established in a permanent building in Copenhagen, but it has also popped up in cities such as New York, London, Shanghai, and Nairobi. Ikea conceives of each Space10 location as an opportunity to explore ideas that would boost consumers’ well-being. Each location brings together artists, designers, tech experts, and entrepreneurs to collaborate on research projects. It also hosts art, music, and architecture exhibits open to the public.

[Photo: Athul Prasad/Space10]

In the past, Space10 has tackled problems such as creating sustainable and affordable homes in densely populated urban centers, prototyping a solar-powered neighborhood, and developing autonomous vehicles to serve as moving co-working spaces, cafés, grocery stores, and healthcare centers.

This is the first time that Space10 has come to India. The Delhi lab will be unlike previous pop-ups, partly because it will be open for significantly longer, allowing the local mix of artists, designers, and technologists to spend more time developing solutions to problems. Delhi is a fast-growing city that’s experiencing a web of issues, many of which are accelerated by the detrimental effects of climate change. The air in Delhi is at toxic levels due to vehicle and industrial emissions, along with farmers burning crops to clear their fields for the next season’s planting. At least 1.2 million premature deaths in India in 2018 could be attributed to air pollution.

[Photo: Sheena Dabholkar/Space10]

The Space10 team acknowledges these challenges, but they also make the case that India’s young, educated, and tech-forward population can be harnessed to come up with creative solutions. “We think India is the ideal place to explore new sustainable and scalable solutions that can help combat real problems for real people,” says a Space10 blog post.

Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that our planet is teetering on the brink of disaster because of man-made climate change, which spurs more extreme weather patterns. Developed countries carry a lot of responsibility for this crisis. On a per-capita basis among major world economies, the biggest carbon emitters are the United States, Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, and Germany. India and Brazil are the only major economies in the world with below-average carbon emissions per capita, because a significant proportion of the population still lives below the poverty line.

As India’s middle class grows, emissions in the country are also expected to increase. However, a more optimistic take is that developing countries have an opportunity to design cleaner, greener infrastructure from scratch, rather than having to change deeply entrenched systems. If initiatives such as Space10 continue apace, India could leapfrog ahead of countries like the United States that are only beginning to contemplate overhauling their infrastructure through policies like the Green New Deal.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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