FEB 15, 2018 07:54 AM PST

This Refugee Shelter Can Be Built in Hours and Lasts Three Years

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

The Better Shelter organization, which launched through a partnership between the Ikea Foundation and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), created an innovative emergency shelter to address the global refugee crisis. The Ikea Foundation is the not-for-profit branch of the Swedish furniture giant. In 2017, Better Shelter shared that its emergency shelter won both the Grand Prize and architecture award in the prestigious Beazley Design competition, which focuses on original and mold-breaking designs around the globe. A total of 70 projects were nominated into the contest, which gives awards in six categories: digital, graphics, products, architecture, fashion and transport, along with the Grand Prize.

Better Shelter's design, credit: Better Shelter

“We are above all pleased that this prize brings attention to our hard work, and as a result, the refugee situation as a whole. We accept this award with mixed emotions – while we are pleased that this kind of design is honored, we are aware that it has been developed in response to the humanitarian needs that have arisen as the result of the refugee crisis,” Johan Karlsson, interim managing director of Better Shelter, said. Better Shelter explains in a press release that Beazley nominations must have designed something that creates change, embodies the overall “spirit” of the times, has a well-developed and innovative design, and creates accessibility.

This shelter can be delivered to refugee camps in two flat-pack cardboard boxes. It is made of steel and recyclable plastic and can be assembled with an illustrated manual without tools. For four people, this reportedly takes about four to eight hours. The 188-square-foot structure is designed to sleep five people. It has a solar panel, USB outlet and roof screen that is designed to reflect sunlight during the day and capture heat overnight. After the solar panel charges, it can be used to drive a mobile phone or other USB device or to power a LED light for four hours in the evening. The white temporary homes also have locking doors and windows along with ventilation and are meant to last about three years, which is about six times longer than most emergency tents.

The company sought out feedback from the refugees while creating the design. For example, many of the families and individuals that Better Shelter staff spoke to asked for doors and windows that could be moved in order to better suit their lives in the camp. They might want their windows and doors to face a relative’s home or to be situated for increased privacy.

“The designers reconfigured the windows to fit on any panel section of the shelter," Jonathan Spampinato, head of strategic planning and communications at Better Shelter, said.

In 2015, Better Shelter launched and delivered 10,000 of the structures to international humanitarian operations, including to refugees and displaced peoples in Iraq, Nepal and Ethiopia. More than 30,000 have now been put into use.

According to the World Economic Forum, the number of displaced people on Earth has hit a record high, based off 2016-2017 numbers. At the end of 2016, the number of displaced people was about 65.6 million. To lend perspective to this amount, it is greater than the entire population of the United Kingdom. Out of every 113 people around the globe, one is now a refugee.

Watch the shelter being assembled below:

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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