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June 19, 2006

Britain's Architecture-Police Stakeout IKEA

Is what's on the outside a fair indicator of what's on the inside? Britain's culture minister David Lammy says yes, and that Ikea's run afoul of good taste by peddling design from stores that look like "badly converted warehouses." Ikea calls the architecture "no frills" and environmentally friendly.

Here, London Times writer Isabel Oakeshot looks into the design quarrel.

Ikea accused of building blots on the landscape

Captlon80402100908britain_ikea_lon804_1FOR shoppers who flock to the blue and yellow stores, the slick modern designs inside are the attraction. But David Lammy, the culture minister, is to accuse chains such as Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings giant, of "dumping" faceless and ugly buildings on Britain's towns.

His comments, to be made at the Royal Institute of British Architects this week, will contrast how chains are "spending a fortune" marketing cheap furnishings while "appearing to give no thought" to what the shops look like from outside.

The minister will compare stores such as Ikea, Tesco and B&Q to "enormous versions of the Tetra Paks they sell inside".

"Good design and high-quality built environments are fundamental to a decent quality of life," he will say. "Too many supermarkets and DIY stores look like huge faceless boxes. These companies need to recognise they have a huge impact on the look and feel of communities."

An aide at Lammy's department said: "Many of these stores look like badly converted warehouses. David is calling on the Ikeas, Sainsbury's and Tescos of this world to think about cleverer designs of their buildings, and bear in mind how they affect communities."

Lammy's comments follow an attack on big retailers last month by David Cameron, the Conservative party leader.

He said politicians should not be afraid to complain when "a company as big as Tesco" or other chains acted unfairly or blighted their neighbourhoods.

Ikea this weekend defended its building policies, saying it was not out to build "fancy museums". It admitted its stores might not be beautiful, but said they were environmentally friendly, and its no-frills architecture helped keep prices down.

Ikea has 14 stores in Britain, with 33m shoppers passing through their doors last year.

In his speech to mark Architecture Week, Lammy argues that while there is much debate about the design of housing, tower blocks and public buildings, little attention is given to the look of retail outlets.

Architects describe such buildings as "big-box stores". Typically made from concrete blocks, featuring plain, windowless walls, they are cheap and easy to build. In America such sheds account for a third of new retail construction.

Ikea argues its customers are not interested in what stores look like and it prides itself on environmentally friendly buildings. Most of its stores use rainwater collected on-site to flush the in-store toilets, while its new Milton Keynes store has a "biomass burner" to recycle rubbish that would normally be taken to landfill sites.

A spokeswoman said: "The Ikea way of architecture is about function, not fanciness."

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Comment on This Article Here! Britain's Architecture-Police Stakeout IKEA:

In London, the IKEA's are in Neasden, close to the North Circular Road, and between road junctions at the back end of Edmonton. Two landscapes it is truly not possible to blot. Re "dumping... ...buildings in England's towns" - throughought England, IKEA is almost exclusively an "out of town" shopping experience (and I only add the almost because I don't know where the new Milton Keynes site is located). (Sainsburys, Tesco and B&Q are more widely spread, however).

Posted by: Lesley | Jun 20, 2006 6:45:09 PM

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