IT WAS A simple idea that caught the imagination of the design world and the general public.
A Swedish social enterprise working with furniture giant IKEA developed a flat-pack refugee shelter to be shipped to camps and assembled on site in four hours. As refugees spend longer periods living in camps, the shelters are designed to offer a more comfortable and dignified living space and have a much longer lifespan – around three years – than the average tent.
Since production began in 2015, Better Shelter’s refugee housing unit has won the London Design Museum’s annual award and been featured in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) bought 15,000 shelters, and deployed around 5,000 in Iraq, Djibouti, Niger, Serbia, Greece and elsewhere. “The IKEA-backed company making flat-pack refugee shelters can’t keep up with demand,” read one Quartz headline.
In recent weeks, the architecture and design magazine Dezeen reportedthat the remaining 10,000 shelters purchased by UNHCR have not been deployed after Swiss and German authorities raised fire safety concerns in late 2015.
Better Shelter is working on a redesign of the housing unit, which it plans to launch this summer. Refugees Deeply spoke to Johan Karlsson, the managing director of Better Shelter, about what happened and the lessons learned along the way.
Refugees Deeply: The Better Shelter refugee housing unit has had a lot of attention and won several design awards. What problem did the initial design solve?
Johan Karlsson: I think the main reason is because it’s a very tangible solution. It is something that many people can identify with – flat-pack, low-cost IKEA furniture. People think: “I would rather myself be in one of these refugee housing units than in a tent or under plastic sheeting.” That idea is what really drove the publicity. But the reality is of course far more complex than that.
There is also the traction of the partnership with UNHCR and the IKEAFoundation, drawing on the competencies of both organizations. On the other hand that has also raised some critiques. The quick fix of the design, while very popular with the wider public, causes some aid workers in the field to question whether it fits their policies … it comes with a preconception that it is more like a CSR (corporate social responsibility) venture than something that has actually been tailored to the needs of refugees living in these spaces.
Sep 27, 2020Bangladesh is hosting more than one million Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority community who are stateless, most of whom fled following a wave of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017. “More than three years have elapsed. Regrettably, not a single Rohingya could be repatriated. The problem was created by Myanmar, and its solution must […]
Sep 26, 2020