IKEA Wins Design Award For Its Innovative Refugee Shelter

Flat packed and assembled in a few hours with no tools, IKEA’s “Better Shelter” places people above profit.

By Jeff Vasishta January 31, 2017
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If you thought all IKEA was good for was Swedish meatballs and flatpack bookshelves think again. The Swedish company’s temporary shelter designed for refugees has been named the 2016 Beazley Design of the Year, beating the artwork for “Blackstar”, the final album from David Bowie and a robotic surgeon. IKEA Foundation’s Better Shelter was announced as the winner at an awards ceremony that took place at the Design Museum’s new home in West London on January 26th, design site reported.

Related: Space Age Campus Designs For The Tech Big-Wigs Are Transforming The Concept Of Office Space

The website is the design partner for the awards which has a mission of celebrating design that  “promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year”.

Unlike other temporary accommodation used to house refugees, which last around 6 months (refugees stay in shelters up to 12 years) according to IKEA, their design, under the same elements of wind, sun and rain, lasts three years. Here’s what makes it so special:

It’s a shed-like structure made of lightweight polymer panels, laminated with thermal insulation, which clips onto a steel frame. If you’re a dab hand at assembling IKEA’s products, you should be able to manage putting one together in four hours and like their bed frames and bookcases come flat packed with panels, pipes connectors and wires. However, unlike their store bought products there is a textile sheet with aluminum woven into the material  laying over the roof for heat control in the same way that flat roofs are painted with silver paint. There’s also a laminated solar panel on a film plastic film power built in lights and a USB outlet.

At around 188 square feet, the Better Shelter is double the size of traditional refugee tents, accommodating up to 5 people, with its upright walls meaning that it could be upgraded and reinforced with earth walls or a metal roof. One the best things about the accommodation is its price, around $1100 each if mass produced.

With the refugee crisis showing no signs of abating, Refugee Housing Unit has sent thousands of flat-pack shelters to crisis points around the world in time for freezing winter weather. The distinctive white structures have dramatically improved the living conditions of refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos according to IKEA’s online catalog.

Professor of Design at Kingston University, Daniel Charny, who nominated the project, hailed the flat-pack object in The Independent as a “ground-breaking example for putting values and benefit above profit”.


“Great design responds to needs, and there is no doubt that the refugee crisis is one of the biggest of our era,” he said. “This social enterprise uses flat-pack technology to create more robust and appealing shelters for refugees, with a commitment to continuous improvement as the shelters are used across the world.

“While it will not solve the crisis, it goes a long way to accelerate innovation, challenge unacceptable norms and communicate respect.”

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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