The Swedish “do-it-yourself” furniture giant, IKEA, has teamed up with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop a flatpack shelter that can being used for refugee housing. Currently, there are over 45 million people displaced across the world because of conflict or natural disaster. IKEA is working to return dignity, security, and a life to these people.

IKEA’s flatpack shelters are chock full of innovative technology developed solely for these structures. The shelters are made from a lightweight polymer plastic, which is mounted on a steel skeleton. Refugee Housing Unit designed this polymer plastic to be strong enough to withstand the harsh climates of refugee camps, light enough to be transported cost-effectively, and to create privacy. Each shelter also has a metallic fabric shading cover that reflects the sun during the day and retains heat at night. Solar panels on top of the shade net generate electricity for a built-in light and a USB port inside the shelter.

The shelters require no additional tools for construction and can be built in around four hours. Each one can comfortably house five people for around three years. These features make IKEA’s flatpack shelters a vast improvement over the housing options that are currently available to refugees. Unlike this new innovation, traditional canvas ridge tents are usually not insulated, are half the size, and have a lifespan of around six months, which combined severely limit quality of life.

IKEA’s current flatpack model is two years in the making, but still in the prototype phase. Refugee camps in Iraq, Lebanon, and Ethiopia are testing around 50 of these prototypes. In the future, the design team hopes to increase the shelter’s solar electricity capacity, as well as its water harvesting and purification capabilities. Lockable doors and windows are also in the works.

Thus far, IKEA’s philanthropic branch, IKEA Foundation, has invested $4.8 million into developing the shelters. Each unit reportedly costs around $7,500 to create, but designers are hopeful that they can settle on a cost of $1,000 each, once in mass production. This price is double the cost of current tents, but with a vast amount of additional features most important to refugees.

Though IKEA’s do-it-yourself model can sometimes pose a construction challenge to its average customer, this model excels within the constraints of refugee housing. IKEA has used its fortune to bring innovative, improved shelter to those truly in need of it.

– Tara Young

Sources: NPR, Wired, The Guardian
Photo: Inhabitat