An overview of IKEA’s new 26-acre redevelopment in London’s East End

Here is a quick look at IKEA’s large redevelopment project in London’s East End:

The new project is only the first step of Ikea’s journey into urbanism. Inter Ikea’s LandProp division has acquired a second parcel north of London and has initiated talks for a $1.45 billion project in Birmingham twice the size of the one in London; it has reportedly shopped for sites in Hamburg, Germany, too. LandProp also intends to build a hundred budget hotels across Europe and is considering a push into student housing, all covered by the stores’ bottomless cash flow. “Once we decide to do something, we go like a tank,” said LandProp’s chief, Harald Muller, at Strand East’s unveiling in 2011. (Citing overwhelming media interest, LandProp refused repeated requests for an interview.)…

The new town within a town pursues this dual goal by putting the Swedish vision of the folkhemmet (the “people’s home”) to the test. It’s a utopian dream that dovetails nicely with the aim of London officials to use the Olympic legacy to address historic inequalities in the city’s East End. Plans for Strand East depict car-free streets lined with low-slung multifamily town houses, while smaller homes face the back alleys in an echo of London’s beloved mews. Of the 1,200 homes and apartments, LandProp promises that 40% will be large enough for families; another 15% will be set aside for affordable housing, for which London has considerable pent-up demand. The remainder of the site will consist of public squares and parks, with mid-rise commercial districts along the edges.

So far, urbanists are impressed with what they’ve seen of the project. “Compared to the towering cities popping up around the world, Strand East is a quaint, pleasant surprise, mixing old and new in a way that gives the area an uncommon sense of history and place,” says Paul Kroese, strategic adviser for the International New Town Institute. The plans are of a piece with Ikea’s other ventures, too. “Ikea wants to build a world that leverages its knowledge of how people live,” says Steen Kanter, a former top Ikea executive in the United States who today runs his own consultancy, Kanter International. “And it’s a good way to gain expertise installing kitchens and wardrobes and other large environments.”

Indeed, some retail analysts suggest that Strand East is both a branding exercise for Ikea and a living laboratory for a renewed drive into housing. The company has been trying to crack the U.K. market since 1997, when it intro duced a flat-pack home. The BoKlok comes in three configurations (none larger than 800 square feet), with prices starting at about $112,500. (The houses are assembled by Ikea’s construction partner, Skanska.) More than 4,900 BoKloks have been built to date in Scandinavia, but it hasn’t caught on in the United Kingdom despite recently renewed interest in prefab housing.

Curbed sums up some of the more interesting aspects of the project:

1. Included in Ikea’s masterplan: shops, schools, theaters, a hotel, and, you know, apartments for 6,000 people.

2. Strangely absent? An actual Ikea store.

3. Starting prices for the town’s flat-pack houses, called BoKlock, are less than half the price of an average U.K. house—$112,500 vs. $260,850...

5. Of the 1,200 houses to be built, 40 percent will be large enough for families, and 15 percent of them will be earmarked as affordable housing...

7. The whole shebang will supposedly cost around $500M.

We’ll see what happens. Even if this wasn’t built with IKEA, there could be some questions about the design, how successful it will be as a mixed-income neighborhood, and how it will fit in with the surrounding area. While people seem interested in how might affect IKEA’s global image, I would be more interested to know how the community itself will relate to IKEA as developer and major corporation. The experiences of a place like Celebration, Florida and Disney suggest this can be a convoluted process that both attracts a certain kind of resident but can lead to governance and identity issues.

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