Visitors to Ikea's flagship store in Norway got more than they were expecting, in this moving installation by POL which recreated the apartment of real-life Syrian refugee Rana, and her family of nine. Ikea stores are known for their perfectly arranged example homes, but 25m2 Syria showed a different reality - bare concrete walls, windows covered in plastic and makeshift furniture. On each object a laminated Ikea tag showed how people could donate to the Red Cross, while posters described life in Syria as a refugee. Different areas and objects told different stories - in the kitchen, visitors could see how the charity gives out food rations, while while stuffed animals explained how the family stay warm at night.
The project was part of Ikea's longstanding partnership with the charity, and launched during the annual Norwegian fundraising event TV-aksjonen. The aim was to get people donating, but in order to do so POL needed to give people insight into what living in a war zone was actually like - creating an experience that went beyond just photographs.
"Since there's no lack of images and videos from war zones, we needed an idea that could make a greater impact than the TV-images we're almost immune to," says POL Art Director Snorre Martinsen. "We quickly realised that the most relevant way to use Ikea's partnership was to look at what Ikea is - and means to people: A place where you plan a future for yourself and your family. New baby rooms, family kitchens and living rooms. Ikea is all about these tiny showroom/homes that you get to walk in to, and imagine that you live in."
"We wanted to use that aesthetic to imagine that you live in a war zone - and that the future you had planned was taken away from you. Our hope was that people would get so immersed in the experience that they would donate to the Red Cross. Luckily, they did."
Martinsen explains that the biggest challenge of the project wasn't convincing Ikea to build a war-torn apartment in the middle of its store, but the actual creation of the installation. Despite having photographs of Rana's home and interviews with the family to refer to, POL had never built anything like this before. Getting the apartment made on a low budget meant asking project managers, family and friends to all work together with POL's set designer to build the installation.
Although the agency were hoping for coverage from Norwegian press, the project drummed up interest from newspapers and magazines around the world.
"When CNN were the first ones to call, we realised we'd done something right," says Martinsen. "Some visitors posted that after bringing their kids to Ikea, they wanted to donate stuffed animals and clothes the next day. Refugees that made it to Norway told us that they relayed to the home - and Ikea customers across the globe asked for 25m2 Syria in their own Ikea."
"We were proud of the installation before, but not prepared for the response - and how it actually resonated with people."
"So many people had gone "above and beyond" just to make this happen," she adds. "Everyone worked day and night to make sure this was respectable and as true to the cause as it could be. Although not everyone is mentioned on the credit list - we're sharing the pencil with them!"