Ideal Lab

Research through design program
Curation and design
Participation of 52 creative agents
Touring exhibition; Saint-Etienne, Paris, Saint-Nazaire in France and Oslo, Bergen and Florø in Norway

Funded by
Norwegian Arts Council
Norske Ambassaden i Paris
Institute Français
Sogn og Fjordane Fylkeskommune
Florø kommune
La Ville de Saint-Nazaire
Fjaler kommune

The Ideal Lab is a research through design program that relocates the meaning of design to a social environment in mutation. In collaboration with research, arts, science, sociology, and industry the Ideal Lab’s goal is to define upcoming needs, provide human results and realise future scenarios through tangible products and processes. By themed cycles of one year, selected Agents are invited to exchange visions, thoughts and co-produce meaningful results.

Since 2010, four themes was developed in collaboration with 52 selected creative Agents and eleven public workshops where held. The results have received four international design awards and have been presented at 21 biennials, exhibitions, festivals and conferences around Europe.

Ideal Lab work thematically, investigative and process-oriented, and not towards a beforehand defined product / result. The process is structured by a given number regular “agents” is invited in the project, each with their expertise. It’s the agents who, in collaboration with users and the environment, select which areas to investigate further in the project, which proposes what direction and towards what goal / result one should work.

Agents with different professional backgrounds, are invited to take part in and develop a scenario that can create meaningful results within the chosen theme. By the choice of agents the goal is to ensure that one obtains the broad expertise. It is of crucial importance that the agents complement each other and share common basic values: ethics, search for meaning, critical thinking, confidence in the other agents and the right to doubt and acceptance of conflicting results. The agents creates results individually or in collaboration with others.

Longer Participation
with Auger & Loizeau, Charlotte Grum, Ola Hovland, Mathieu Lehanneur, Erwin Olaf, Ralston Bau, Ambra Trotto.
Precious Food
with Siri Berqvam, Marc Bretillot, Julien Dossier, Bertrand Duplat, Runa Klock, Constance Gaard Kristiansen,
Anthony Quinn, Ralston Bau, John Thackara, Jo Zarth.
Empathic Home
with Christophe Berdaguer & Marie Péjus, Cecilie Haaland, Christian Lodegaard, Jeff Pedersen & Idun Losnegård,
Miyuki Inoue, Rainer Rosegger, Ralston Bau.
Replanted Identity
with David Brognon & Stéphanie Rollin, Pierre Dubourg, Laurent Chambon, Ralston Bau, Signe Solberg, Anne Lise Stenseth,
Vera & Kyte, Mélanie Buatois, Les M Studio, Margit Seland, Øyvind Wyller.

All other content of Ideal Lab is available on its dedicated website.

Longer participation

The population is aging and have longer active lives through improved health. From a certain age, humans can be left outside the community as well as from an economic standpoint. In this program, we ask: “How can we make the older generation participate longer in the community?”. In order to give an answer to this, we developed the program: “Participate longer”. Each person which has a “normal functioning” mind, also has a creative soul. This means that anyone is able to influence the society, assuming that they have the technical aides and the competence to use these tools to materialise their ideas. Elder citizens do not always have these aides nor the skills to use them, due to this they are often ignored during a creative process. Most seniors would like to actively participate to the societal evolution. By ignoring them, we create a deeper generational gaps and lose opportunities to develop better systems and profit from of their knowledge and life experiences.

The elder population is beginning to be bigger than the present working generation. After a life of working, and without experience of using modern communication tools, motivated elders can get isolated. Valuable knowledge is lost, where as it could be useful for the society.

Precious Food

"Our food is shipped all around the globe before it arrives at its final destination. We can eat the food we want in the quantity we like all year round." But do you know who is producing, with sustainable values, in your region? Every day our civilization increases its records of production, but also its wasting. While we produce too much, the third world has a food insufficiency. Each culture has its own food habits, resources and usages. For these reasons we do not manage food in the same way. In this context history plays an important role because it explains these food habits and uses in culture. The globalisation of food management world wide has created enormous gaps between the energy supplied to produce food and the end results as food is going through all the supply chains.
John Thackara wrote in his book “In the bubble” that to produce one kilogram of rice, 4.000 litres of water is needed, while you need 13.000 litres for one kilogram of meat. To empathise food experience and relocation, movements such as “Slow Food” are working to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives. Slow Food believes the enjoyment of excellent food and drink should be combined with efforts to save the countless traditional grains, vegetables, fruits, animal breeds and food products that are disappearing due to the prevalence of convenience food and industrial agribusiness. With the Precious Food program, we wish to make a precise statement about food management, from production and distribution to the supply chain. The goal is to come up with alternative scenarios and generate tangible new solutions following new social behaviours to reduce the impact of our growing food need without taking away the pleasant experience of our daily food consumption. How could we eat better and healthier, for us and for the planet we extract these treasures from? Personalities from all around Europe with complementary backgrounds investigated the fact that humanity has this very relevant problem to solve towards our food consumption and its management on earth. They collaborated not only to generate relevant interrogations, but also came up with tangible new solutions, systems and creations that tell our desire to change to a large audience. Precious Food works through three scenarios: “Grow, Transform, Eat”. In these scenarios, the participants set their focus on local knowledge and knowledge transfer within the main theme Precious Food. While working on various projects in each scenario, at least one or more of the projects did focus on local structures and necessities. The focus allows participants from outside Norway to get an impression of local customs and increased the dialogue around food amongst participants. This dialogue, along with the exchange process, developed the impulses and knowledge further in both ways.

  • The waste of food is growing because of a heavy supply chain, based on a worldwide scale, with quality of taste and nutrition deteriorating.
  • The sad statement that up to 35% of food is wasted has to be solved with concrete, small and big, new scenarios to lower this percentage.

    “Precious food” is a fertile title for a research through design program. It hints at the value of a vital ingredient, currently perceived as a commoditised energy intake. It opens the field of innovation and new sources of value creation in relation to the food chain. Over 20 engaged professionals, designers, chefs, students, engineers, artists, farmers, industrials, took a relevant place with their energy, motivation, creativity and empathy towards our food during 2011 and 2012.

Replanted identity

Identity is, literally, what makes us identical to others. It is essential for forming a community, be it religious, national, local, sexual, racial or artistic. What makes an identity interesting is that it is in fact, a combination of multiple identities that are unique to each one of us and resembles a tool box. Everyone searches in their own, to find the identity that is useful at a given moment. It allows us to find a similarity with other people and create a connection, an identified community, even if it is a superficial and momentary one. Some can use their identity to exclude, but the traveler know it is more useful to use the identity that includes. Socialising with unknown people is about finding the « identity zone » in which we can communicate.

Our investigative design program Ideal Lab have taken on the theme identity, “replanted identity”, in the particular context of the Micropolis. Since most places are inhabited by indigenous and migrant populations, destined to stay there, an inclusive local identity emerge as important to create a happy and prosperous local community. The identity issue has become very relevant as the traditional borders disappear. Having a certain nationality as once only identity does not suffice anymore. Humans are more and more connected to each other, above geographical and language borders, and choosing the right identity at the right moment is the best way to amplify these connexions. We stay less often where we were born or where our ancestors came from. Humanity is migrating to the cities, and its populations, better educated than ever before, can choose where and how they want to live. Helping humans to generate identities which allow them to connect easily to others is not a luxury anymore, but a common need.

Everyone is a mix of endogenous and exogenous identities. Our endogenous identity is a result of how our body is connected, how we perceive data from the world that surrounds us and how we deal with it. Everyone is, in this aspect, quite unique, more or less sensitive to certain stimuli. Our exogenous identities are the result of our environment: the culture we grew up in, the educations we received, but also the friends we have chosen, the positive and negative experiences that marked us, the travels we made and the influences we have had. This mix of identities is the way we define ourselves and a way to connect ourselves to others. We can feel European because we feel connected to the other inhabitants of the continent. We can feel we belong to a place where we were not born, our mere presence there making us feel linked to its other inhabitants.

A successful local identity is a meeting point of the best in us. Where of the physical peculiarities of its territory meets the history of the place and the people who live there, while still making space for those who haven’t moved there yet, those who are just passing by, and those who would like to settle for good. The success of a local identity is a daily collective practice, an object of desire, something unique and simple, open enough to include most people, but with enough restrictive definition not to lose its strength. The search for identity is the quest for what unites people, what bring them together, through what is identical to all. We have invited French and Norwegian creative Agents to immerse themselves in three unique places - Florø and Saint Nazaire, and Tøyen in Oslo. All are distinctive, gorgeous and in transformation, with similarities and differences. These Agents collectively and individually studied and observed these Micropolises to project a new version of the local identity in artworks and objects, all vectors of a “replanted identity”.

The Nazairiens

Following our immersive process, we encounter the Saint-Nazaire citizens and stakeholders in the middle of the city centre for several weeks, to enhance an empathic dialog and collect their stories related to their identity and their relations with their city. During the second world war, they suffered a lot by the nearly total destruction of the city; the harbour is still hosting the ghost of this era within the massive submarine concrete base, still being there as the cost of deconstructing it is as enormous as its foundations. Some of our collected insights brought us to speculate that after the war, the city decided to relocate the city centre away from its original place, the harbour, to turn back to its painful memories and build a future. The fact is now that the city in its core still belongs to the harbour. And the rebuilt city centre is nameless, surrounded by neighbourhoods having a narrative and a name: the city centre still does not, consequence of a post war vision, which did not connected with the essence of the place: the ocean. To operate a new collective pride and memory, we decided to focus on their identity, their meaning in life. And nothing will be more powerful than caring about the guardians angels of the harbour: the loose men, or the Lamaneurs in French.

Dale citizens

A space is not a thing rather a set of relations between things
(Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space 1974).

This workshop is inspired by a psycho geographic method, developed by the organisation the Situationist International, emerging from a fusion of several artistic groups. Being active from 1957 to 1972, the organisation stated that it was the people using the city that created the city. Everyday life became their centre of attention, wanting to understand how people gave meaning to the city. The Situationists explored the potentials not visible in the material structures of the city by studying the emotional and behavioural effects of the geographical layout. The workshop is also inspired by the book Soft City by Jonathan Raban. Here, Raban states that our individual town is constructed by personal experiences and memories – that is, my town is different from yours! It’s the associations and relations to places that create security and identity in town – more than physical street lights and signs. From this perspective the city or town can be seen as a stage, a unique and private reality constructed by personal trajectories and narratives. If we want to get to know a town and its potential, we have to dig into the social texture of this particular town. Participation is taking part in the construction of reality. For two days a group of Dale citizens were invited to reconstruct or co-construct their individual townscapes. They contributed to mappings of Dale that were founded in personal lives and experiences instead of functions, structures and institutions. There is not only one version of Dale but hundreds!

Exploring and including the many individual versions of the town creates a more valid and ‘thick’ image of Dale, how the town works and what it means to its citizens – informing and qualifying town planning and designing products. Relational aesthetics is an art form where the social or relational exchange is the primary centre of attention. The psycho geographic workshop in Dale is to be understood in these terms; the goal of the workshop was to collect and weave together the elders’ relations to the town. The workshop presented an alternative understanding of the experienced qualities of Dale. The workshop can be seen as a user orientated exploration of the subjective mind scape of the elderly citizens, a bottom-up approach to understanding town life. The workshop underlines the importance of subjective registrations, and how these can be carried out and later used in different ways. The mapping method takes point of departure in people’s usage and comprehension of the town, rather than the physical look of it. By inviting the elders to describe their town and living environment in different terms and alternative aspects, the ‘soft’ version of Dale turns up. By visualising and physically mapping meanings, memories and sensory experiences we get an insight into the plastic nature of Dale exposing the potential for developing living spaces that matter - closely related to the participants and people living in this place. The shift between individual, pair and group tasks, between thinking, sharing, discussing, agreeing, walking and sensing was all supporting active participation, strengthening the social texture of the town.

What if the subjective side of climatic qualities were taken into account while designing and planning the infrastructure of the town? What if more personal stories were collected and where put on signs or audio stations all over town? Layers of meaning would become visible; a physical expression of the invisible social relations Dale is made of. The informal soft side of town would be tangible and laid open inviting to a larger sense og belonging. Would it create a more human town?

Emotional mapping

In order to grasp the qualitative experiences of the town, a group of elders walked through it, registering and identifying emotionally charged areas. The result of the day provides insights to the personal stories connected to every corner of Dale, making visible that a place can have many different meanings attached to it. That is, a place is a space woven by traces of individual interaction. The numbered stickers are attached to buildings and communicating to by-passers that this is a special place, a place of importance. The places and stories are collected on a blog and open for others to comment.

Identifying climatic qualities

Heat, coldness, dryness, wetness/humidity, light, darkness, wind and calmness are all climatic qualities of the human environment. Our psychological perception is influenced by subjective factors like memory, experience, preference etc. making the perception of places a highly individual matter. In this workshop we want to explore which climatic qualities are being experienced in Dale and we want to create personal visualisations of specific climatic qualities by single use cameras. The result of the day is situated and individual observations making a sketch like description of which climatic qualities are being experienced in Dale. This information is put on the blog as well as samples of the individual visualisations of specific qualities. The aim is to get a base for reflection and further social exchange. It is a qualitative perspective which can be developed further by including more people and more places. As an example it is interesting to reflect upon whether a group of women would experience the same qualities as the men did, that is - whether a gender difference exist in perceiving and evaluating climatic qualities.

Tøyen citizens

After belonging elsewhere, inhabitants need to experience a new sense of community. We had an immersive process for weeks within Tøyen and its citizens and stake holders, to experience, observe and be part of their lives and rituals, identifying insights and emotional motivations for them to enhance a higher sense of belonging in Tøyen. Deep dive & scenarios was a workshop where designers and locals met, developed ideas and shaped scenarios together. In collaboration with Gabriele Ferri, PhD, UvA, urban gaming methods were used to connect to the local community at Tøyen and define the local identity. The scenarios created were shaped and visualised in the Making workshop that took form as a practical workshop, making mock ups and prototypes in the collective maker space Fellesverkstedet.

Common ground

Identity (having something identical) can only be created through the act of sharing. That said, sharing is not always easy when natives already have their habits and social networks, while the newcomers do not know all the rules. Successful sharing is preceded by a personal selection of what is really important, like a chef selecting ingredients or a DJ selecting songs. Sharing becomes a way to progress and improve when it goes both ways. Each person thinks about what is important to them, shares it, and enjoys the experience and the selections of others. In Tøyen, sharing seems to be natural and most people seem eager to contribute. The preparation of conducive conditions for sharing is what inspired us. The Tøyen public parks and squares are important in an neighbourhood where most inhabitants lives in apartment buildings. Due to the Nordic weather conditions, outdoor activities are hazardous to plan and spaces can feel unsafe outside in the dark winter months.
The three high rises on Tøyen Torg, with their floating roofs on the top, provides an iconic backdrop of any view of Tøyen. Their rough shape inspired the “Tøyen Roofs” that down at street level create shared and permanent outdoor spaces that enable social activities and give sunlight on an overcast day. The project aim to reclaim the public space and make it usable for common activities at any time; our Parkour project is a continuation of this thinking.

Sensing Dale

The mission is to increase knowledge transfers between generations. We explored and studied the different ways to reintroduce the seniors‘ knowledge and competences. Together with the participating elders, our studio linked the knowledge with contemporary design and material aspects. Resulting out of the knowledge transfer, prototypes have been realised and tuned with experts with urban lighting, sustainable and ecological friendly materials such as linen bio-polymer.


Integration is a process in which one maintains individuality while adapting to stay relevant and alive. In the case of migration, it is to make space for the new without losing the familiar, both for the welcoming society as well as for the migrant. For cities, it means becoming more attractive while staying unique. Adaptation is a dialectic movement between transformation and conservation. Florø and Saint-Nazaire alike depend on their industrial activity to survive economically, and therefore on the know-how of their working migrants. But to keep being attractive to skilled migrants, the two cities need to adapt while being faithful to what makes them unique. In both cities, adaptation is not only human and economic, it is also an essential feature of their geography, of the ocean and its tide, the ever changing weather, the uninterrupted movement of people, objects, and elements.

The climate of the Northern sea with its extreme weather has inspired us the “Storm” vases that bend the flowers like the coastal pine that adapt to the wind and find its place in a horizontal position.


Identity (“ having something identical “) can only be created through the act of sharing. That said, sharing is not always easy when natives already have their habits and social networks, while the newcomers do not know all the rules. Successful sharing is preceded by a personal selection of what is really important, like a chef selecting ingredients or a DJ selecting songs. Sharing becomes a way to progress and improve when it goes both ways. Each person thinks about what is important to them, shares it, and enjoys the experience and the selections of others.
In Florø, like in Saint-Nazaire, sharing seems to be a delicate operation even though we realised that in good conditions everyone is eager to contribute. The preparation of conducive conditions for sharing is what inspired us.


Belonging is a result of the two previous scenarios. Belonging is a feeling based on the collective identity, shared rituals and a collective imagination. The common identity shows what people really share, the rituals which make everyone feel physically and emotionally connected. The collective imagination is filled with events, artistic expressions, and traditions which have touched everyone. Ideal Lab’s Agents were fascinated by the significance of manual traditions in both cities - creating, fixing, making, restoring - and their absence in the public space. Both cities have a typical architecture (wood for Florø, post-war rational planning for Saint-Nazaire) which is sometimes not well taken care of nor embraced. The collective transformation process, through work and the reclaiming of public space, are the main themes of this scenario. The pass-stop use of the city for practicalities, gave us the idea to design seats that invite the busy habitants to slow down, enjoy and take a break. Inspired by the locksman, who guides the boats into and out of the port, the urban seats “Lamaneur” take their shape from the architecture of the 50’s locks-houses.


Shroom is an outdoor light fixture and furniture series with an unique detection system that reacts to movement and ambient light. “The idea behind the Shroom came from working with habitants in a Norwegian village and their memories related to physical places. We wanted to create a lighting adapted to the life and needs in Nordic cities, close to nature and with long dark nights during the winter. The amazing light of stars and aurora borealis (Nordic lights) are affected by public lighting, therefore it made sense to make light fixtures that are fully lit only when needed” The light dims to a 10% light strength, if nobody is in its proximity and when someone passes by, the Shroom smoothly brightens to full luminosity, lighting up the path. This is both energy-saving and avoiding unnecessary light pollution. Made from linen fibres, a natural fibre bio-composite material, the light fixture series include a Giant street light, a Just bollard, a Big and Little seats, the result is a small forest of magic Shrooms.


Svele has been designed during the Ideal Lab’ process of the theme “Replanted Identity” in 2015. In an initial workshop that called for dialog and gathering around Florø identity, the native and migrant participants contributed by bringing home- cooked finger foods. The natural choices for the “Florøværingar” with west norwegian culture was to offer the Svele, a small moon shaped pancake, and those with polish background brought Kiefies, a crescent shaped cookie. We were touched by the generous hospitality that was expressed by our city hosts and out of this experience grew our desire to create a dedicated object.

Shapes of both Svele and Kiefies are descending from the moon at different stages. We used the flat circular form to create two serving trays that took the name Svele after the regional pancake speciality that usually is placed flat on a plate and folded in two or three with brunost (brown cheese) or sugared butter inside. Our aim was to elegantly enhance the display and give them an outwards reaching movement symbolising the desire to share. Svele is an open palm reflecting proudly and as a manifest object the metallurgic tradition and heritage of the city. The dramaturgy of the coastal landscape and the colossal forces interacting are illustrated by the contradiction between the strength of the shiny metal material and its unexpectedly thin and bent shape. Hovering over the table and mirroring the surroundings in its shiny surface, Svele gives the illusion of floating with poetic fragility.

Since 2018, Svele is part of the permanent collection of the Sogn og Fjordane Contemporary Art fund.

The Lamaneurs

We created the Lamaneurs, a series of urban furnitures that invite the habitants to slow down and enjoy their city. Like the lamaneur guiding the ship, these furnitures are taking care of people. The shapes are taken from the docking houses that have a rounded front to provide a wide angle visibility and the metal and wood materials where selected from the ship building artisan industries we collaborated with. Four versions of Lamaneurs each with its own attitude, has been created inspired by their rituals: Lunch break, Coffee break, Long watch and Power nap. Since 2018, Les Lamaneurs are part of the permanent collection of Sogn og Fjordane Contemporary Art fund.


Both immaterial and material adaptation gives new shape to the existing. We wanted to illustrate this in the Storm vases. Our first idea was to make these vases out of bended steel pipes, inspired by the local oil based industry, which is sustaining the local community of Florø. From a shipbuilding culture, Florø have had to learn how to be proud of working with pipes. Great strength is used to bend these to adapt them to the need of their usage. In the case of the Storm vases, it is the flowers that are taking the shape of bended glass.

Tøyen roofs

Tøyen roofs are offering to Tøyen citizens a common spaces currently missing in their surroundings: spaces to gather, have activities in public spaces such as gathering, selling, sharing. Vegetalised roofs held up with pillars in different widths, like tretrunks in a forrest, giving light to parks and squares during dark winter and protective during rainy days. Rough as the creative community and brutalist architecture of this Oslo neighbourhood, Tøyen roofs is a family of installations, urban lighting and furniture, inspired by local roots; Tøyen Festival Roof, Tøyen Sunshine (urban lighting), Tøyen Market Roof and Tøyen Water


The Irregular Notes is a newsletter sharing the Ralston Bau studio research and interventions. It is, as the name says, sent out irregularly two to four times per year.

We take our General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) obligations seriously and strive to ensure that your personal data is securely held at all times.
We do not use cookies and will never disclose your information to third parties and use your email address only for sending the Irregular Notes.

powered by TinyLetter