Ikea's turns its flat-pack philosophy to improving refugee shelters


June 30, 2013

The Ikea refugee shelter designed to provide refugees with better living conditions

The Ikea refugee shelter designed to provide refugees with better living conditions

Image Gallery (6 images)

A tragedy of modern times is the millions of refugees displaced by poverty, oppression, war and natural disaster. Most end up living in canvas tents of a basic design that are hot in summer, cold in winter, and only last about six months in constant use despite some refugees living in such tents for up to 12 years. On World Refugee Day in June, the Ikea Foundation unveiled a new flat-pack refugee shelter with a modular design and solar panel designed to help improve living conditions for refugees.

Designed as part of a two-year project being conducted in collaboration with the Swedish Refugee Housing Unit (RHU) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ikea's prototype flat-pack house is modular and easy to transport and assemble. It consists of a metal frame of pipes and connectors with stiffening wires to support walls and roofs made of lightweight plastic panels. To regulate inside temperature, there’s an aluminized shade that reflects heat, so the shelter is cooler during the day and warmer at night. In addition, there’s a solar panel to power a built-in light and USB port.

According to Ikea, the house takes only four hours to construct and will last three years, providing better security and ventilation for its users. It will be tested by Somali refugees living in UNHCR refugees camps at Dollo Ado in Ethiopia and their feedback will be used to improve the design. The current prototypes cost US$10,000 to make, but hopes are that the cost can be brought down to under $1,000 for mass production.

Olivier Delarue, leader of the UNHCR Innovation initiative, says, “by funding the development and linking us to the RHU, the Ikea Foundation has enabled the three organizations to share each other’s expertise and experiences to create a better home for refugee families, which UNHCR is now testing in the field. We would not have been able to do this without the Ikea Foundation’s knowledge and investment.”

The video below introduces the Ikea refugee shelter.

Source: Ikea Foundation via FastCompany

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Looks sturdier then tents but also much darker and more difficult to build. The tents are very bright and people are willing to stay in the tents more because they are brighter. Ikea's design would work well for storage and maybe offices with electricity.

Matt Fletcher

There are millions of refugees displaced by poverty in America alone. All those homeless people you see, that's what they are but here we call them bums. Or worse.


Way too many parts.

What is needed is lightweight SIP panels like thin alum skinned foam and it could be put up in 15 minutes and be far stronger, cheaper

KIS is the way.


Matt has a point about the darkness....but the panels do not have to be opaque. They can be translucent/white....which could be quite bright inside without loosing privacy. And with well chosen materials....they can have a long life in the sun. Whitish panels will also heat up less in the daytime and loose less heat at night.

Glad to see Ikea working on this problem. Kudos to them..



I would definitely buy this to use as a "cabin" here, up in the north.

Wejitu Geodol

If you assume that the tent will be used to destruction it might be faster and easier to just put up tents and spray them with A B Foam.

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