Carla Hjort: A SPACE10 Odyssey
The future-living lab’s founder and Vision Director on designing sustainable solutions and the power of collaboration.
When SPACE10 came into existence three years ago in the heart of Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, it became an immediate global sensation. Today, the curiosity and admiration only continue to grow for the innovative future-living lab, which is backed by IKEA but given total autonomy to experiment on their own terms.
On a mission to design better and more sustainable ways of living, SPACE10 believes in doing things with a rebellious spirit and collaborating their way to impactful solutions for today’s major challenges. We recently caught up with founder and Vision Director Carla Hjort, who was in Bali to give the first talk in our new Future Visions speaker series hosted at Katamama. Here, we discuss her journey with SPACE10 and where tomorrow is taking us.
How did the idea for SPACE10 come about?
In 2014 my creative studio ArtRebels landed IKEA as a client and in that process, I became friends with Torbjörn Lööf, CEO of Inter IKEA Group, the global owner of the brand, concept and franchise part of IKEA. He asked me to reflect on the idea of developing solutions for a “better IKEA for the future.” It was the ultimate dream challenge and from there we began imagining how we could support them in designing a better, more sustainable and meaningful future. We decided to pitch the idea of an external non-profit future-living lab that would explore IKEA’s potential future ventures, beyond home furnishings, while still living up to their vision of creating a better everyday life for the many people. That was basically the beginning of SPACE10.
What does “future-living lab” mean?
It means that we work as a research and design lab where we try to ask the right questions about what a better future looks like and subsequently design possible solutions to solve some of the challenges we are facing. If our ideas are strong and IKEA sees a viable opportunity there, we move towards implementing solutions at scale.
What societal needs and challenges are SPACE10 reacting to?
We look at some of the major challenges that the global community are facing today such as the lack of natural resources and climate change, rapid urbanisation, political and economic shifts, technological breakthroughs and demographic shifts.
You work under the ethos of “enabling a better and more sustainable everyday life for the many people.” How is this realised through SPACE10?
Through a variety of approaches. On one hand, we utilise design and storytelling to push ideas and visions for the future forward, ones that people can relate to and can engage with. This mainly happens through our Playful Research, which The Growroom, an open-source food-producing dome, is a great example of. It is freely available to download for people to then make locally, in a maker-space, and start producing food locally. I guess you could consider Playful Research as our activism tool, a way to give people the opportunity to take matters into their own hands, be part of the conversation and, because of the open-source design, even improve our solutions.
On a bigger scale, we are currently looking into potential new sustainable housing models, also affordable and communal, and we are working on democratising solar energy through blockchain technology and big scale hydroponic farming. These are all very ambitious projects that require both time and investment, but we are optimistic and with IKEA behind us, I believe we can make it all happen.
“As a global society, we need to accept and embrace the fact that it’s time for a paradigm shift”
How do you come up with new ideas?
We have a method-and-process design. First, we ask the right questions based on topics like climate change and food scarcity, and then we explore and research until we start seeing patterns that can lead us to the initial “Imagine if…” questions. From there, we begin the conceptualisation phase and creative process until we reach the final concept and a possible answer to the challenge. Throughout the entire process, we simultaneously run the SPACE10 program, which is a series of lectures, workshops and exhibitions around the world, where we engage with local communities and build a network of experts and collaborators on the given case. We also run a residency program where we take in young talents and experts to help us gain deep knowledge and new perspectives.
At SPACE10 we have a saying: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” Collaboration is at the core of how we work and we always make sure to build diverse and transversal teams.
What are some of the most important learnings you’ve had about designing sustainable solutions over the years?
One of the biggest learnings has been the realisation that in order to create systemic change we need big visions, great minds and a lot of creativity, hard work and dedication. As a global society, we need to accept and embrace the fact that it’s time for a paradigm shift. In order to shift away from old industrial and linear models, we need to design new circular ones, challenge and re-design economic systems and ensure that governments, private sectors and civil society join forces to get there. It’s a massive task with endless challenges, but we are hopeful and, at least, spend all our energy on taking an active position in the transformation.
How do you envision SPACE10 in 5 years?
We would love to see SPACE10 expand to more countries, some exciting plans are already in the making, and a dream scenario would be to see our grand visions realised and see people benefitting from the work that we do.
Are there certain challenges or needs that you wish for SPACE10 to take on in the future?
Climate refugees are a global challenge that, unfortunately, will only grow in the coming years. Personally, I think this will be one of the biggest challenges the world will have to face in the near future, and we have to start designing for an entirely new population who are constantly on the move.
Which other sustainability pioneers do you admire or would like to work with?
There are so many amazing sustainable pioneers in the world right now. There has never been more progress within Green Tech and more and more start-ups with sustainable agendas are surfacing. Also, there’s an increasing number of major companies that are transforming their business models in order to tackle their climate challenges.
We also see new education initiatives such as Bali’s own Green School, which prepares the next generation for the challenges of the future. I would love to collaborate with the Green School and of course Potato Head. The list goes on but there’s New Lab in NYC, MIT, the UN, and studios like Ensemble, Kengo Kuma, and EFFEKT, who we are already working with on a big housing project. There are also creatives and artists such as Tim Teven, Lucy McRae and systemic thinker Indy Johar.