Better Shelter Creates Award-Winning Shelter for Refugees


SEATTLE — An initiative supported by the IKEA Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is focused on providing basic needs for refugees displaced by war and natural disasters. In just a few short years, Better Shelter lived up to its name and developed a portable shelter for refugees that won the renowned Beazley Design of the Year Award for 2016. The movable structure was exhibited at London’s Design Museum through Feb. 19, 2017.

The Need for Innovation

Better Shelter realized that traditional solutions for refugee housing, tents and cargo containers left room for improvement. Climate control is difficult in tents, and the fire hazard is significant. Cargo containers also have disadvantages. Since many recycled containers were made for ocean transport, they are coated with a protective finish to shield them from saltwater. Unfortunately, those coatings often contain harmful chemicals like chromate, phosphorous and lead. Additionally, the wood floors in many cargo containers are treated with chemical pesticides like arsenic and chromium to keep insects away.

IKEA’s Influence

Better Shelter addressed these issues and created an innovative solution, calling it “a safer, more dignified home away from home for millions of displaced persons across the world.” The portable shelter is a marvel of engineering combined with nods to the user-friendly assembly for which IKEA is famous. The unit comes packaged in two cardboard boxes, and all the assembly tools are included. As far as housing is concerned, the shelter for refugees is highly portable — each box can be lifted by four people. When deployed in the desired location, the shelter can be assembled in just eight hours following IKEA’s familiar visual instructions.

IKEA’s influence continues in the design and sustainability of the structure – the frame fits together in modules and is made of recyclable plastic. Once assembled, the unit boasts some impressive features that make it a hospitable shelter for refugees. The five-person home has locking doors, windows, ventilation and a solar panel that powers lights and cell phones. Better Shelter also kept quality at the forefront during the design process; the shelters are designed to last for up to three years.

Better Shelter Deployment

The tiny homes are already being deployed as a shelter for refugees. At least 16,000 of the units have been delivered to poverty-stricken regions in Iraq, Djibouti, Niger, Ethiopia, Nepal, Greece, Macedonia and Chad.

IKEA Foundation head of strategic planning Jonathan Spampinato said the partnership was pleased with the results. “Putting refugee families and their needs at the heart of this project is a great example of how democratic design can be used for humanitarian value. We are incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available, so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home,” he said.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Better Shelter


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