Looks like IKEA's heart may actually be the only thing bigger than its massive stores. The low-cost company's solar-powered disaster shelters, which have been used in Ethiopia and Iraq, have just received an honorary award from the Swedish Design Awards. The flat-pack shelters are a collaborative labor of love between the IKEA Foundation and the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU) and were designed to offer a durable, comfortable and energy-capable alternative to traditional canvas tents that commonly house refugees during times of crisis.
In 2013, the formidable team sought to design easily deployable shelters that not only provided for the basic needs of those requiring emergency housing, but that could also provide more than a simple modicum of privacy, comfort and dignity. The shed-like shelters are made from polymer panels that are laminated with a thermal insulation. The flat-pack design allows for rapid transportation, and thanks to the efficient clip-on design it takes under four hours to connect the panels to the steel frame. The 188-square-foot, shed-like shelters can house up to five people, double the amount generally assigned to typical refugee tents in dire situations.
What’s also brilliant about the IKEA shelters is the solar panel roofing, which allows inhabitants to generate electricity for basic living needs as well as communication. The roof is also designed to deflect solar radiation by 70 percent, cooling the shelters during the day and insulating warmth within the interior at night.
The recent Swedish Design Awards were judged by design specialists Ross Lovegrove, Li Edelkoort and Giulio Cappellini, as well as design critic Alice Rawsthorn, who highlighted the importance of design in humanitarian issues. Rawsthorn noted, “The realisation that the people who need design ingenuity the most, the poorest 90 per cent of the global population, have historically been deprived of it, and the determination to address that, have been one of the most important design developments of the past decade.”