LEIDEN, Netherlands - The IKEA Foundation, the charitable arm of the global ready-to-assemble furniture maker IKEA Group, teamed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in  2010 to develop innovative and more durable housing for refugees. Using many of its design philosophies inherent in creating its popular flat-packed bookcases, the goal, according to the foundation, was to create a modern approach to shelter that is easier to ship and set up in the field.

The flat-packed shelters consist of lightweight panels, connectors, pipes and wires as well as solar panels for light and electricity. The units can last up to three years as opposed to tents that may only last six months.

Although the city of Zurich in Switzerland rejected IKEA's shelters because of fire hazard concerns last December, Better Shelters, the Swedish social enterprise that distributes the temporary homes, insists that the structures meet the required standards. In a January 6, 2016 blog, the organization stated:

There are no existing recognized standards to specifically inform the fire testing of temporary humanitarian shelters. We have developed this shelter in close cooperation with UNHCR, with an aim to improve the overall standard of refugee shelters. The specifications developed for the Better Shelter were informed by recorded good practice and was developed to include the following considerations in relation to fire risk: intended for single family use with limited occupancy levels; limited internal distances to an exit as means of escape – maximum of 5.7 meters in the case of the shelter; an outward opening door to facilitate a swift exit; a rigid steel frame covered with sufficiently fire retardant wall and roof panels to allow occupants sufficient time to exit the shelter in the event of fire; in compliance with humanitarian guidelines, the time required to exit a shelter in the events of a fire is 2 minutes... For the intended use, we have together with UNHCR concluded that the shelter’s level of fire safety exceeds the fire safety standard for this type of structure.

The U.N. has ordered more than 10,000 shelters to deal with refugee crises in Chad, Ethiopia, Iraq and in Europe. And the Iraqui Ahalna Campaign has recently ordered more than 250 units with plans to purchase approximately 500 shelters.

Both the IKEA Foundation and the UNHCR also are participating in the What Design Can Do (WDCD) Refugee Challenge, which is seeking designers, artists and creative thinkers from a variety of disciplines who can help develop solutions for refugee housing, healthcare, education, work, cultural integration and other areas. WDCD is an Amsterdam-based design platform that advocates the social impact of design, according to its web site.

The top five entries will receive up to €10,000 ($11,051.50 U.S.) as well as advice and guidance in developing their concepts. Submissions will be accepted until May 1, 2016. Learn more about the design challenge at http://www.whatdesigncando.com/challenge/background.

 

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