A tragedy of modern times is the millions of refugees displaced by poverty, oppression, war and natural disaster. Most end up living in canvas tents of a basic design that are hot in summer, cold in winter, and only last about six months in constant use despite some refugees living in such tents for up to 12 years. On World Refugee Day in June, the Ikea Foundation unveiled a new flat-pack refugee shelter with a modular design and solar panel designed to help improve living conditions for refugees.

Designed as part of a two-year project being conducted in collaboration with the Swedish Refugee Housing Unit (RHU) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ikea's prototype flat-pack house is modular and easy to transport and assemble. It consists of a metal frame of pipes and connectors with stiffening wires to support walls and roofs made of lightweight plastic panels. To regulate inside temperature, there’s an aluminized shade that reflects heat, so the shelter is cooler during the day and warmer at night. In addition, there’s a solar panel to power a built-in light and USB port.

According to Ikea, the house takes only four hours to construct and will last three years, providing better security and ventilation for its users. It will be tested by Somali refugees living in UNHCR refugees camps at Dollo Ado in Ethiopia and their feedback will be used to improve the design. The current prototypes cost US$10,000 to make, but hopes are that the cost can be brought down to under $1,000 for mass production.

Olivier Delarue, leader of the UNHCR Innovation initiative, says, “by funding the development and linking us to the RHU, the Ikea Foundation has enabled the three organizations to share each other’s expertise and experiences to create a better home for refugee families, which UNHCR is now testing in the field. We would not have been able to do this without the Ikea Foundation’s knowledge and investment.”

The video below introduces the Ikea refugee shelter.

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