Ikea designs a refugee shelter to replace tents

The Swedish furniture giant is working with the UN to create easily built, durable, solar-powered homes for the world's displaced.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 3, 2013 9:46AM

Screen shot from the Ikea Foundation's video about designing refugee homes (© Ikea)Love it or hate it, you can't escape Ikea. The Swedish furniture giant has more than 300 stores in 37 countries and territories, including nearly 40 stores across 21 states. And you can gripe about its flat cartons filled with "assembly required" furnishings and Allen wrenches, but Ikea might also be bringing its low-cost, simple construction designs to a new group of desperate consumers: refugees.

The U.N. recently estimated the number of refugees and internally displaced people globally is now at its highest level in nearly two decades. It said at the end of last year over 45 million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflicts, persecution or human rights abuses.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says about 3.5 million of those refugees live in tents, which offer minimal protection from the elements and typically wear out in about six months.

So, the UNHCR turned to Ikea to design a cost-efficient refugee shelter that can be easily transported and assembled in crisis zones -- while lasting up to three years.

The company recently unveiled its prototype shelter. Like all things Ikea, it comes in a flat-packed box, but it can be assembled in just four hours without tools, and it has enough room to house a family of five.

The shelter's lightweight plastic walls and roof deflect heat during the day but retain it at night. The roof has flexible solar panels that provide some minimal electrical power in each shelter.

"We’ve been working on this for three years and it's … a significant investment," Per Heggenes, CEO of the Ikea Foundation, the company's charitable arm, told the Christian Science Monitor. "[W]e hope that this will be a product that can be manufactured commercially and offered in the market to all organizations that are dealing with emergency and disaster situations."

Several dozen of the shelter prototypes, costing $8,000 each are being tested in real-life conditions at UNHCR camps in Ethiopia, Syria and Lebanon. If they're successful, according to the Monitor, the hope is that enough of them can be produced to bring the overall cost down closer to the price of the currently used tents.

More on moneyNOW

Jul 3, 2013 11:38AM
Great job - good to see a company addressing on of the basic needs for third world countries - shelter, water, food and power!  
Jul 3, 2013 2:35PM
A bit late to the party Ikea. Sukup, an American company, designed and deployed a more substantial housing solution for the earthquake victims in Haiti. It didn't take 3 years either.
Jul 3, 2013 5:11PM
It sounds viable even here , especially if they cut the cost down . If you could link them together the possibilities are endless. 
Jul 3, 2013 5:31PM
Looks like Ikea sees a future high demand for this kind of shelter. Perhaps in the United states when the real financial crisis, the Obama socialist machine and the Fed. are creating, wipes out so many.
Jul 3, 2013 11:55AM
These shelters also come with a solar-powered Swedish meatball maker than can produce two meatballs per day.
Jul 3, 2013 3:27PM
Has anyone seen photos from Mongolia? they should sue IKEA for design infringement I will let you all figure out why.
Jul 3, 2013 3:28PM
IKEA, huh. Does it come with a matching big-screen TV stand and a workstation???
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