Canada's Condominium Magazine

IKEA and UN unveil new shelter concept for refugees

It’s a story of one of the world’s biggest private companies and biggest NGOs coming together to tackle one of the world’s biggest problems. Challenged by the United Nations to come up with a better form of housing for millions of refugees around the world, Sweden’s home furnishings giant IKEA has produced a prototype shelter that is now testing in African refugee camps. If the shelter works as well as its designers hope it will, the design will be made available to other companies for production and commercialization. They could start deploying by early next year.

It seems a natural fit: a company with decades of experience creating modular, relatively inexpensive, assemble-it-yourself furniture that requires no tools except the ones that come with the famous flat-packed products, and a “market” consisting of millions of people, with very little in the way of material possessions, who need shelter.

IKEA’s philanthropic organization, the IKEA Foundation, has partnered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and a group called the Refugee Housing Unit. IKEA had the creative people to provide the kind of innovation the relief workers were looking for, as well as the expertise in logistics and flat packing. When approached by the Refugee Housing Group, IKEA, it is reported, found that the project suited the organization’s spirit, and agreed to join the effort.

Just as IKEA looks for innovative ways to create a better everyday home life for the many people, the IKEA Foundation is looking for ways to create a better everyday life for poor families who have lost their homes and everything familiar to them. By bringing together our partners and funding new technology, we can help make a tremendous difference to the world’s most vulnerable children.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation

The result of the partnership, the IKEA shelter for refugees, was unveiled to mark the UN’s World Refugee Day, June 20.

The new shelter design is meant to replace the tents that now make up the mainstay of refugee camp shelter for about 3.5 million people. In the often extreme climatic and social conditions where they are used, those tents typically have a limited lifespan of several months. The IKEA shelters are designed to be more permanent, built of solid but lightweight panels that attach to a metal frame. They could last for several years. Unfortunately, the refugees who will possibly use them face the bleak prospect of remaining in the camps for an average stay of twelve years, according to the UN. Children born in a camp will probably know no other home for the first decade of their lives.

Besides the greater permanence, the IKEA shelters include design features that are intended to make them more comfortable: solar panels to provide electricity, so the occupants can do basic tasks like reading at night and cooking, and special fabric to provide insulation when it’s cold and heat reflection when it’s hot. They also provide more privacy for the occupants.

The shelters are being tested in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, chosen because of its harsh conditions. The testing will allow the designers to measure the technical aspects of the structures, as well as getting feedback from the people actually living in them.

Auberge on the Park-Tridel


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