Ikea's flat-pack refugee shelters
go into production

| 17 comments

Ikea is producing 10,000 of its flat-pack temporary shelters designed for refugees made homeless by conflict and natural disasters (+ slideshow).

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

The Ikea Foundation will supply the Better Shelter units to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which will distribute them globally to displaced families and communities later this year.

"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," said Jonathan Spampinato of the Ikea Foundation. "We are incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available, so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home."

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

The prototype design for the shelters was revealed in 2013 and has since been tested by 40 refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia, and developed further in response to their feedback.



With an expected lifespan of three years, the shelters are designed to be more durable and better insulated than traditional refugee tents. Measuring 17.5 square metres, they are also twice as large and accommodate five people.

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

Production is set to begin imminently and the shelters could reach those in need as early as this summer.

"The refugee housing unit (RHU) is an exciting new development in humanitarian shelter and represents a much needed addition to the palette of sheltering options mobilised to assist those in need," said Shaun Scales, UNHCR's chief of shelter and settlement. "Its deployment will ensure dramatic improvement to the lives of many people affected by crises."

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

The shed-like structures are built from lightweight polymer panels laminated with thermal insulation, which clip onto a steel frame.

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

Panels, pipes, connectors and wires all come flat-packed in cardboard boxes like Ikea's furniture, and take four hours to assemble without the need of additional tools. A solar panel on the roof provides enough energy to illuminate the interior after dark.

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

The structure could be upgraded over time, for example by adding earth walls or a metal roof.

Better Shelter by Ikea Foundation for UNHCR

The project received an honorary award at the Swedish Design Awards last year. Design critic Alice Rawsthorn, who sat on the judging panel, described the project as "an unusually sensitive and intelligent response".

"The realisation that the people who need design ingenuity the most, the poorest 90 per cent of the global population, have historically been deprived of it, and the determination to address that, have been one of the most important design developments of the past decade," said Rawsthorne.

  • Dylan Milne

    I can’t believe that people still call Ikea junk and label them a bad company. It’s disgusting to see people hold Ikea in contempt as they are such a positive force in the world of design. I’m very glad this is going ahead.

    • Arjay Cee

      Got any praise to lavish on McDonald’s, too?

    • ME

      Hypocrites! Ikea is known for their use of sweatshops and deforestation in Russia! This is just a strategy to make Ikea look good… and people fall for the fake image! And yes they make junk for mass consumption while small, honest companies go bankrupt.

  • Pleased to see that this project is developing. It relieves a basic need.

  • Concerned Citizen

    “The realisation that the people who need design ingenuity the most, the poorest 90 per cent of the global population, have historically been deprived of it.”

    Actually, I believe the poorest people are ingenious in their ability to adapt whatever elements are needed to provide temporary or even permanent shelter. Those outside of urban areas are able to draw on centuries of design using basic elements. Simply using polymers and insulation does not make it a better design.

    Nevertheless, this is a great project initiated by Ikea, and it appears to be devoid of the egos of so many architects.

  • Mario

    Is Ikea the goodie or badie in the world of design?

    • W. Pinkham

      They’re neither. They’re just the Ikea of the design world. The Postmodern amalgamation of all of our hopes and dreams stripped down to their most basic, allen-wrenchable components.

  • Max

    Forty units since 2013? Really? Sounds more like sweet propaganda than any serious project.

    • Lolly

      10,000 units in production. 40 were tested since 2013.

    • ME

      Yes exactly; pure propaganda.

  • Shara

    Oh my gosh! What an awful design. It’s just plain refugee hell. Not even a window, not even a toilet! Where is Ikea’s contribution? This perpetuates misery for those in misery! Shame on Ikea.

    • Sully

      How many windows do the housing units you’ve constructed for refugees have in them, Shara?

    • livid lili

      Not sure if you can flat pack a toilet.

    • Refugee hell is is freezing to death, to name just one thing.

  • Clayton Tidwell

    Does anyone else see these and think: “ah, wow, these would be great for Burning Man”!?

  • ALF

    Clearly a shelter that can be made available for a few thousand, go up in a few hours, and last a few years is a great response to disaster relief. Heston: “The structure could be upgraded over time, for example by adding earth walls or a metal roof”.

    I had this same thought, but then wondered, don’t earthen structures need to breath on both inside and outside wall? An earthen house would be durable long term, and use available on-site material, but could you build it over a polymer wall, or would it hold condensate?

  • delaxo

    I wonder if any reader here would spend a day under African sun in those closed boxes?