IKEA creates flat-pack refugee shelters

The designs have been developed by the IKEA Foundation in consultation with refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia.


Dollo Ado, Refugees

IKEA has created a flat-pack refugee shelter that can be assembled on-site without additional tools and equipment and has a lifespan of three years.

The retailer’s IKEA Foundation has been working on the project with the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR for a number of years. The foundation says it wanted to develop “a new kind of temporary shelter that will provide refugees with safety, dignity and a better place to call home”. The target cost for each shelter is $1,000.

Johan Karlsson is an industrial designer and head of business development at Better Shelter, the social enterprise set up by the IKEA Foundation to manage the shelter project.

He says: “[The key consideration was to] provide a home, however humble that home may be. This has been the design driver since start. In practice this means providing simple basics – things such as that one can walk upright inside the shelter, a door to lock, a light to turn on and walls thick enough to give adequate privacy.”

The design was developed in consultation with 40 refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia. IKEA says it aimed to develop a design with a focus on transport, volume, weight, price, safety, health and comfort.

Following the prototype testing, IKEA says the design was iterated to create the current shelter.

Karlsson says: “Many of [the issues that arose] were related to the use of the product. One example is the packaging. For the pilot we had a packing concept which was very logical from a production point of view: all metal parts in one box and all plastic parts in a second. However, this didn’t make much sense when building the shelter, it was complicated to find the right part! So what we did is that we revised the package design with one box for the foundation, a second for the roof, and a third for the walls. We have now tested this and it works so much better.”

He adds: “There has been numerous changes like this – small but important fixes to doors, windows, ventilation etc. to make them work easier. And also, of course, we have optimised the design for production – so we are very glad to now have the better shelter 1.0 for release.”


Jonathan Spampinato, head of strategic planning and communications for the IKEA Foundation, says: “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.”

The shelters are delivered in flat-packs to be assembled on site. Each shelter also comes with a solar panel and lamp to provide light.

Production of the shelter is about to begin. They will be developed and produced by social enterprise Better Shelter, which was established by the IKEA Foundation.

The UNHCR is set to buy 10,000 of the shelters to use in its operations around the world.

UNHCR chief of shelter and settlement Shaun Scales says: “[This is] and exciting new development in humanitarian shelter and represents a much-needed addition to the palette of sheltering options mobilised to assist those in need. Its deployment will ensure dramatic improvement to the lives of many people affected by crises.”

Better Shelter
Dollo Ado, Refugees
Dollo Ado, Refugees
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