A Safe Home… For Those Without One - INDESIGNLIVE SINGAPORE | Daily Connection to Architecture and DesignINDESIGNLIVE SINGAPORE | Daily Connection to Architecture and Design

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A Safe Home… For Those Without One

Responding to one of the most defining issues of the moment, Better Shelter is an award-winning project that provides safer, more dignified homes for those who have been displaced due to conflict or natural disasters.



BY Janice Seow

31 January, 2017


The Syrian conflict and other ongoing tensions around the world are forcing millions to leave their homes, neighbourhoods and countries in search of safe havens. The words ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ are now part of our everyday lexicon and our everyday consciousness.

In our new reality, there are tens of thousands of refugees living in camps or temporary settlements, their lives in perpetual limbo and lacking in the fundamentals for basic living, like sanitation and security.

That’s where Better Shelter seeks to help. This social enterprise began in Sweden in 2010 as a small design and innovation project, driven by the belief that sustainable design could make a difference to humanitarian relief. The groundbreaking moment came when it partnered with UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation, and began developing new shelter solutions, which were then tested and further developed using insights and the experiences of refugees in Ethiopia and Iraq.

Designed by Johan Karlsson, Dennis Kanter, Christian Gustafsson, John van Leer, Tim de Haas, Nicolo Barlera, the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, the refugee shelters created by Better Shelter feature a lockable front door and a solar powered wall. They utilise the same flat-pack technology used in furniture design to ensure that the shelter that can be easily assembled and transported. Flat-packed in a two-box kit along with all the required tools, the shelter can be put together in about four hours. The photovoltaic panel provides enough energy to power the supplied light or to charge a mobile phone.

A total of 30,000 of these flat-packed shelters are already in use around the world, serving as temporary homes, registration centres, medical facilities and food distribution points in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Better Shelter has just been named “Best Design of 2016” in the Beazley Designs of the Year awards. The annual awards and exhibition is curated and hosted by the Design Museum in London, and previous winners have included the London 2012 Olympic Torch and the Barack Obama Hope poster.


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