Ikea develops flat-pack
refugee shelters

| 17 comments

Ikea develops flat-pack refugee shelters

News: furniture giant Ikea has used its expertise in flat-pack design to redesign refugee shelters.

The Ikea Foundation has been working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which currently houses displaced people in traditional canvas ridge tents or more modern hoop tents, neither of which provide insulation or last more than a few months.

"Many of the current shelters used in refugee camps have a life span of approximately six months before the impact of sun, rain and wind means it needs to be replaced. Yet long-term refugee situations mean that, on average, refugees stay in camps for 12 years," says Ikea.

Designed to last three years, the prototype shelter from Ikea is a shed-like structure made of lightweight polymer panels, laminated with thermal insulation, which clip onto a steel frame.

Ikea develops flat-pack refugee shelters

The shelters take four hours to assemble and come flat-packed with panels, pipes, connectors and wires in cardboard boxes just like an Ikea bookcase.

There's also a textile sheet with aluminium woven into the material that lays over the roof, reflecting the sun during the day and keeping heat in at night. A solar panel laminated on a thin plastic film powers built-in lights and a USB outlet.

At 17.5 square metres, the shelter is twice as large as a traditional refugee tent and each one accommodates five people. The upright walls mean the structure could be upgraded over time, for example by adding earth walls or a metal roof.

Ikea develops flat-pack refugee shelters

The firm hopes they could be made for around £655 each once in mass production. Ikea's Refugee Housing Unit is manufacturing 50 trial shelters to be tested in Ethiopia, Iraq and Lebanon.

Other stories about disaster relief on Dezeen include post-tsunami housing by Shigeru Ban, the reconstruction of a refugee camp outside Tripoli in Lebanon and Brad Pitt's Make it Right project where architects including Frank Gehry, Morphosis and MVRDV are designing homes for New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Ikea also recently announced it will produce miniature versions of its most popular products as dolls' house furniture and that its founder Ingvar Kamprad is stepping down after 70 years at the helm. Last year the firm apologised for selling products manufactured by East German political prisoners in the 1970s and 1980s.

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  • beatrice

    It’s getting interesting now.

  • Abiy

    I am very interested. What a wonderful idea.

  • http://www.willierobb.com/ Willie

    Great idea but a three year lifespan doesn't really cut it. Some Palestinian refugee camps have been occupied for over 50 years.

    • seth

      Better than nothing.

  • AKZ

    This is an utterly terrible idea that goes against all the principles of humanitarian relief. I can only assume that UNHCR are working with IKEA as some kind of promotional tool.

    Emergency shelters designed to last months should cost about $150. Transitional shelters should cost in the range of $1,500 (as this shelter supposedly does), however they should be transitional, which means repairable by the people living in them.

    Not many people desperate enough to use these shelters would have access to tools to fix aluminium tools. Shelters should also be built by beneficiaries or at least have their input in construction in order that the shelters are valued and actually used. Not having to shift large amounts of materials across international borders also helps a major relief operation. Local materials which can be built and maintained by local people helps a shelter project succeed.

    I am afraid this is another design by a hopeful designer who has never set foot in the field. I am an architect with experience of managing shelter projects in Haiti and Pakistan and as you may be able to tell this sort of design really gets under my skin!

    • MFS

      @AKZ I understand your call for the local craftsperson’s involvement in the development of the relief housing. But even you would have to admit that an aluminum skin is far more weather resistant than the tarps that were used in the many tent cities which populated Port au Prince in Haiti.

      In Grenada following hurricanes Ivan and Emily, a rudimentary enclosure of 2″x2″ framed structure with the lowest grade blue tarps were used. Sure they provided enclosure and privacy, but the tarps quickly tore in the high winds that accomapnied the numerous tropical waves that hit the islands in the 2004 and 2005 season.

      I would think that the IKEA system would be much preferred. Never mind the heat, they are a good example of fine immediate relief.

      With regards to the matter of tools – I would trust that IKEA would include a serviceable tool kit with the system.

      I would like to note however as I had observed in Haiti, that under some initiative, that there were craftsmen building modular components for relief houses which were being sold in the local market place. I thought it rather reminiscent of the way we built chattel houses in bygone era in the Caribbean.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Refugee camps are seldom in an area overflowing with spare building materials. The idea is to get something into place as quickly as possible, and that means not having to hunt and scrounge for local products and then processing the material into something buildable and durable.

      And why couldn’t the tools be shipped with the shelter? I am afraid you are just rationalising your distaste for this project, or for Ikea.

  • Yolandi

    There are better shelters being produced by university students, most of which are modular or flat pack. However it’s good to see that a company with as much financial power as Ikea is using its resources and expertise for a good cause. I’d love to have been involved in this as a former Ikea coworker and architecture graduate.

  • http://www.politicomix.net Roberto

    Despite @AKZ’s good points, there’s no question that if these shelters make it into the field they will endure far longer than their three year projected lifespan. And yes, the occupants will not have the right tools with which to make repairs, but they WILL make repairs, with wire and plastic cord and other improvised supplies.

    A question that occurs to me, though, is why IKEA would not make this from their usual pressboard. That would have a true lifespan of closer to three years, and presumably be less expensive? [But I have no idea what bulk manufacturing costs are for aluminum panels. Nor how the shipping costs would differ if these shelters were made of presumably much heavier pressboard.]

    As @Yolandi notes, that a company with the financial and manufacturing muscle of IKEA is addressing this issue is a fine thing.

  • Dr. Ben Laime

    The crew at Pixar has a word they use on projects which might be useful here -plussify. AKZ is, of course an “expert” and we always know that experts probably don’t realize, at times, that this IKEA proposal could be modified to meet the requirements needed to make it more useful (not sustainable). What I like about the IKEA proposal is how they have made it possible to have energy (solar).

    About a year ago, I proposed to several organizations that they look at discarded carriers (especially ones made in China). Once these 20X8 or 40X8 carriers are no longer useful for carrying goods, they are often left in ports. A number of people have made them into lovely homes. Many of these could, for less than 1000 pounds, made into clinics, schools and more.

    Schools could be set up to show how these carriers could be modified. Lots of ideas around. Plussify.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Several non-profits in the USA are using containers. The units are completely outfitted, including furniture, in the USA at the site of the charity. The unit is then closed up and shipped to the destination.

  • gtrkitek

    Great idea!! At least somebody is doing something for refugees! I hope the test project works out.

  • Rotterdam Architect

    This is by far the most practical and simple solution to temporary housing produced in the last few years. Its simplicity however is a result of highly sophisticated design grounded in the realities of manufacturing and transport logistics.

    It is literally light years ahead of anything that could be designed by an architect, such as Shigeru Ban, let alone an idealistic student, from which a recent line of projects of this nature has been seen.

  • Ibn alBalad

    Please send them to Turkey and Jordan for the refugees.

  • http://www.hannesgrebin.com Hannes Grebin

    Great approach to use the man power and resources of a company that is big enough to shift from revenue orientated to human orientated.

    Kamprad leaving the ‪Ikea‬ board to free some space for the next generation. This is some magic deriving from that.

  • HMV

    This seems well designed but not without some room for improvement. I’m not sure it’s light years ahead of this student project for instance: http://www.archdaily.com/174909/liina-transitiona

    The designs are similar but the one done already two years ago uses a seemingly simpler system of construction and is made of wood which means it could eventually be burned for energy whereas aluminum would need to be collected and exported to be recycled. Seems to me that IKEA ought to import some Finnish designers over to Sweden.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Wood doesn’t survive in tropical climates.