IKEAtown: The City and the Retail Destination

As the title suggests, the study is concerned with the effect of the IKEA brand upon the perception of and identification with place, in particular reference to the first city-centre store in the UK which opened in Coventry in December 2007. Through analysis of the following observations and theory I establish the extent to which the placefulness of Coventry is undermined through the dominant presence of the IKEA brand. This, in turn, leads to a larger hypothesis; that the IKEA formula, as a form of ‘destination retailing’, destabilises the notion of place and obscures the understanding of place through experience.

IKEA has been surprisingly neglected in academic texts. Discussions of consumerism, commodity and internationalisation have tended toward concentrated study of the out-of-town retail mall and patterns of decentred consumption. IKEA, however, should not be considered to be of the same order as the retail mall; its spatial and cultural structure is conspicuously unique and requires critical attention. This study consults architectural, socio-geographical and tourist theory to establish a framework for an analysis of IKEA. Nearly all information referred to with explicit reference to the brand was sourced from newspaper and magazine articles and the internet. This suggests the lack of academic and critical attention that the IKEA phenomenon has received to date. The implications for the city arising from IKEA’s transferral to an urban context have been starkly ignored and suggest an underlying indifference toward the city in question. ‘IKEA-town’ intends to go some way in addressing this.

The intention of this dissertation is to establish how 'placefulness' and place identity are formed and how they may be undermined to the detriment of the city. Following a narrative-like sequence alluding to the process of visiting an IKEA store, this study considers the arrival of the global retail destination, how it may be recognised and categorised, how the destination and place are consumed and, finally, what happens when it is 'time to leave'.

Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that retail destinations - and most particularly the unique variety that is the city-centre IKEA - engender practices and activities akin to a form of 'retail tourism', which serve to destabilise notions of place and inherently affect the formation of individual and collective place identity.

This text may be viewed at the RIBA's President's Medals website here