IKEA Breathes Digital Life into Dying Crafts


Creating everything from magnificent spherical houses into 3D-printed meatballs, Ikea’s Space10 laboratory is used to shaping our future in creative and innovative ways. Recently however, the Copenhagen-based team turned to technology to help recover the past: It has gone digital to breathe life into dying arts.

Over time, technology and machines have allowed for efficacy and scale [but] it has also weakened the link between design and material, and the use of classical craftsmanship in our society, according to Space10. They said that imagine if, as electronic fabrication through software testing in the age of digital transformation emerges and spreads, newfound precision and techniques can be used to replicate and even improve the art of art?

Old and new

The future-living lab invited three architects – Yuan Chieh Yang, Benas Burdulis, and Emil Froege – to reimagine traditional craft methods. And, from Japanese joinery to metal forcing, they have pushed the boundaries of the electronic ‘CNC milling’ procedure, looking at qualities of yesteryear, and investigating how digital tools can bring them in the future.

Yang, for example, worked out how to use this process to reimagine the 1,000 year old Japanese ‘wood column’ – where pieces of wood are cut to slot into each other at perfect right angles. Where previously using a chisel limited craftsmen to straight lines, he discovered that CNC grinding enabled him to make a subtle curve which would better lock and pieces of wood without needing screws or hand tools.

Benas Burdulis used the CNC mill to make ‘daylight panels’ that could grab the light and enhance the natural lighting of a room. Benas Burdulis’ ‘daylight panels’ line walls to emphasise sun. The machine’s precision enabled him to create a blueprint which would most emphasise the shadow and light pouring into the space.

Finally Emil Froege made a copper reflector: he first used the mill to carve a spiral-shaped mountain from foam, and then followed this instrument route to shape a round aluminum disk. Individuals have shaped aluminum by hand for centuries, and so Froege even integrated a conventional shaping bowl into his final layout. Froege claims that traditional builders are dying so traditional crafts are dying since there is no time and money to create these decorative details.

They expect that CNC can reintroduce that part of craft. With such inspiring electronic reimagining and a software testing course afoot, traditional craftsmanship won’t ever grow old. The Prince of Wales has lamented the decline in traditional craft skills in Britain and called for more to be done to ensure their survival for future generations. He spoke out as a milestone report warned that dozens of crafts – like piano, fan, broom and parchment making – are dying out.

Others, such as cricket ball creating, saw and spade making, gold beating and Sieve making, have already vanished in the face of cheap imports or decreasing demand. The threat to Britain’s craft skills was highlighted in a report warning that many could disappear altogether, unless more is done to emphasise their significance to the nation’s heritage despite the strong emergence of IT cloud computing and other business IT solutions that seem to be affection traditional art and industries. Now Prince Charles has called for a larger “appreciation” of conventional craftsmanship and for more attempts to preserve their continuing existence.

In a statement, he emphasized the importance of traditional crafts – that they are as much a part of their shared heritage as their beautiful historical landscapes, beautiful buildings, rare breeds of indigenous farm animals and diverse museum collections. He said, “I urgently believe that we must gather more information on the crafts identified so far to ensure that no more treasured skills are lost forever.”

In a foreword to the Heritage Craft Association’s first Red List of Endangered Crafts report, the Prince added that he hopes that the Red List will promote more interest and further study into this precious aspect of their heritage, expanding their shared appreciation of traditional craftsmanship and, of course, putting these crafts on a sustainable footing so that they can continue to attract real cultural and economic benefits to our communities for generations to come.

The report says that the conventional manufacture of cricket balls, sieves or riddles, and lacrosse sticks, together with gold beating, has already died out and been replaced by a IT services company offering AR, VR and other managed services to optimize products and manufacturing. According to the HCA much of the blame lies with the increase of mass manufacturing, together with imports from countries where labour and materials are considerably less expensive than in Britain.

Chinese imports of cheap gold foliage all but killed off the British gold beating business, and the last present producer, Birmingham’s W. Habberley Meadows, stopped production after being unable to find anyone willing to accept the lengthy and painstaking process of learning the craft. Likewise hand stitched cork and leather cricket ball are now imported from south Asian and finished off in the United Kingdom.

London-based Dukes Cricket Balls stopped making them in this country after modifications to migration principles made it more difficult to recruit foreign workers and no British kids showed an interest in taking up an apprenticeship. There’s a threat traditional cricket bat making will go the same way, warns the HCA, with craftsmen working with English willow wood undercut by mass producers, both at home and overseas.

Standard piano manufacturing has suffered a collapse, with only one commercial craft maker in presence compared to 360 at the beginning of the 20th Century. Cavendish Pianos, in North Yorkshire, aims to create 50 pianos per year in the face of cheap imports from China and Indonesia. Ian Keys, Chair of the HCA, stated  that craft skills today are in precisely the identical position that historical buildings were a hundred years ago – but that we now recognise the value of older buildings as part of our heritage, and it is time for us to combine the rest of the world and recognise that these living cultural traditions are equally as important and need safeguarding too.