Whilst you're not likely to see much about the Syrian refugee crisis in mainstream media outlets in the immediate future, that doesn't mean it's not worthy of attention. Enter IKEA, in a particularly charitable mood, who have worked with the Norwegian Red Cross to build a replica of a real Syrian home inside its flagship Norwegian store in Slependen. The 25 Square Metres of Syria apartment is based on that of a refugee woman named Rana, a mother of four young children who all live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Damascus. Designed with the input of creative agency Pol, the apartment is unlike the other display rooms in the store and is built from rough concrete blocks. Instead of the typical aspirational interior laden with IKEA products, it is intended to give customers a realistic glimpse of what life is like in the war-torn country.
In a statement about the project, Pol said: “We had been working with the Red Cross for months, so we had a lot of footage from Syria, but no matter how emotional it was, nothing got close to the experience of visiting people in a war zone. We realised we could give Norwegians that experience at IKEA. At the one place where you think of and plan the future; the apartment served as a physical reminder of how lucky we are. Norwegian Red Cross had visited Rana and filmed her home, so we knew what conditions it was in. The whole family shares a few mattresses and she only has plastic to cover the windows. It would have been easier to just put up wallpaper, but it wouldn't have felt the same. We wanted the apartment to be as close to reality as we could.”
Named “25 m2 of Syria,” the whole house fits inside 25 square meters and is inhabited by 10 people. It’s actually modelled off a house that exists just outside of Damascus. A woman named Rana and her family of nine live in the compact structure. Rana told the Red Cross team: “When we had to flee to this area to find safety, we did not have enough money to rent a better place. We have no money to buy mattresses and blankets, or clothes for the children.” It's a pretty bleak statement, but it works. Instead of sofas, we see nought but a few scattered rugs, while beds are made from thin sponge mats and old blankets. IKEA's iconic price tags, meanwhile, were used to tell short stories of refugees all across Syria who deal with daily shortages of basic needs, such as food, water, and medical supplies, and to give information on how to donate to the Red Cross. The attention to detail is quite stunning, with the room even built with heavy concrete walls, which were supposedly the most difficult part of the construction, but were included to help the apartment feel as close to reality as possible.
This isn't the first time IKEA has offered its services to the ongoing refugee crisis either. Best-known for its extensive range of ready-to-assemble furniture, the company launched a flat-pack emergency shelter back in 2013 as an alternative to the tents often used to house displaced people. Thousands of these “Better Shelter” cabins have since been deployed globally, with many being used for functions other than housing, or grouped together to create larger structures.