Watch Ikea's flat-pack refugee shelter unfold in mere minutes

Tech Culture

by Ashley Esqueda February 7, 2017 5:20 PM PST @ashleyesqueda

Ikea's known for its flat-pack furniture -- rectangular boxes meticulously arranged to hold all the pieces in as compact a package as possible. We've seen desks and tables and dressers packed into those cardboard boxes, but you might not know Ikea's also involved in designing a full-blown refugee shelter that packs into two simple boxes and can be put together in mere hours.

It's called the Better Shelter, and it just won the Architecture and 2017 Grand Prize awards in the annual Beazley Design of the Year competition sponsored by The Design Museum. (The group's website describes the awards as celebrating "design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year.")

If you're skeptical about building a five-person shelter in less than four hours, check out this 2-minute time-lapse video that shows how easy construction is (the music is pretty wild, too). It's almost a little depressing to know it takes a team of people just as long to build this shelter as it does for me to put together an Ikea desk at home.

The Better Shelter is a welcome change from standard refugee tents traditionally made of canvas and susceptible to quick wear and tear in more extreme climates. The shelter Ikea helped to design is made of sturdier material (think Porta-Potty walls) that let light in during the day and handle weather like rain or flooding much better than more basic options.

It's also equipped with windows for ventilation, a lock for increased privacy and a solar panel to power/charge lights, cell phones or other small devices. (Note: if you're surprised refugees would need to charge cell phones, you should definitely check out CNET's sprawling feature on the refugee crisis and how tech features heavily in many of their lives.) The idea is exactly what its name implies: a better shelter for organizations and locales that desperately need lightweight, modular housing for incoming refugees.

Better Shelter's initial concept was introduced back in 2013, and since then, tens of thousands of the structures have been deployed around the globe, including Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Life, disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it? CNET investigates.

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