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Ikea wants to replace refugee tents

Posting in Architecture

A refugee shelter can be shipped and assemble in the same manner as IKEA's home products

Swedish furniture maker IKEA's philanthropic arm has created a more restful replacement for the ubiquitous refugee tent: reusable and highly portable emergency housing.

Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday that the IKEA Foundation had completed the design work for a flat-packed tool-less structure. That means it would ship and assemble easily (if people can figure out those pictorial instructions). The report says that Ikea's structural panels are designed for even extreme climates.

"Many of the shelters currently used in refugee camps often have a life span of as little as six months before the impact of sun, rain and wind means they need to be replaced. However, refugees usually stay in camps for several years," the foundation wrote in its blog. "Not only does this leave vulnerable families even more exposed to the challenges of life in a refugee camp, but it also presents a huge burden to the aid agencies and governments trying to create a more dignified life for the millions of people who have had to flee their own homes."

The IKEA Foundation has been working in unison with UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency. The organizations have pooled their expertise to design housing units that solve problems found in existing refugee camps. For example, solar panels are included to provide renewable energy for each individual unit, which was never feasible in a tent. The units are also insulated, providing more comfort and security.

IKEA's prototype is being tested at a refugee camp in Ethiopia, which is informing future design changes.

Designing shelters seems like a big departure from making coffee tables, but this is not the first time that IKEA has ventured into construction. It's now developing a design for budget hotels as well as building an entire London neighborhood. The goal is the latter case is to make more affordable housing.

(image credit: IKEA Foundation)

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— By on June 20, 2013, 2:13 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure