Why Ikea’s flatpack refugee shelter won design of the year

Why Ikea's flatpack refugee shelter won design of the year
© Erik Hagman/Better Shelter

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Why ikea's flatpack refugee shelter won design of the year
© Erik Hagman/Better Shelter

Ikea’s solar-powered Better Shelter lasts six times longer than a typical emergency tent and has already changed the lives of thousands of refugees around the world

When Hind and Saffa Hameed arrived at the Al Jamea’a refugee camp in Baghdad in 2015, having been hounded from their home in Ramadi by Islamic State militants, they had never been so glad to see an Ikea product. It wasn’t a Billy bookcase or Malm bed – but an entire flat-pack refugee shelter. The Swedish furniture giant’s innovation has just been crowned Beazley design of the year 2016 by London’s Design Museum.

“If you compare life in the tents and life in these shelters, it’s a thousand times better,” Saffa, 34, told UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. “The tents are like a piece of clothing and they would always move. We lived without any privacy. It was so difficult.”

The family, having been moved from tent to tent, had experienced severe overheating in summer and flooding during Iraq’s rainy season, giving the four young daughters constant diarrhoea. “When the rains came to the camp, the water was about one foot high,” said Hind, 30. “But this shelter is more protected. We have a door we can close and lock. I feel it’s safer and cleaner.”

With years of expertise in squeezing complex items of furniture into the smallest self-assembly package possible, Ikea has come up with a robust 17.5 sq m shelter that fits inside two boxes and can be assembled by four people in just four hours, following the familiar picture-based instructions – substituting the ubiquitous allen key for a hammer, with no extra tools necessary.

Developed by the not-for-profit Ikea Foundation with UNHCR over the past five years, the Better Shelter consists of a sturdy steel frame clad with insulated polypropylene panels, along with a solar panel on the roof that provides four hours of electric light, or mobile phone charging via a USB port. Crucially, it is firmly anchored to the ground and the walls are stab-proof, a potentially life-saving feature given that such shelters are often sited where violence is rife and gender-based. […]


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