Recently the 2013 press release announcing IKEA’s entry into the small prefab housing market began circulating on Facebook yet again with their IKEA Flat Pack. Originally posted on sites like Inhabitat.com, Greenprophet.com, and buildinghomesandliving.com. The press release heralded the development as “a real game changer”. The lightweight flat pack was dubbed the “Better Shelter” and was developed under a partnership between the Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). What wasn’t really pointed out and still is not highlighted without fairly in-depth research is that IKEA unveiled the solar-powered flat pack shelter exclusively for easily deployable emergency housing. At least that was the idea. Ever the domestic marketer though IKEA added that the tiny prefab homes, designed to be mass produced, could actually serve as a home option for those not in emergency situations. And the penalty flag is thrown!
According to the Better Shelter website: “The shelter resembles a house, with semi-hard, non-transparent walls. It has four windows and a high ceiling, enabling residents to stand upright inside. The door, lockable both from the inside and the outside, lets everyone – and women and children especially – feel safer when they are at home. A solar powered lamp provides light during the hours of darkness. The shelter allows residents a higher level of safety, security and dignity than a tent.”
For anyone familiar in any way with the IRC, local building and zoning codes, and even HUD standards though, there is absolutely no way a flat pack tiny house of just 188 sq.ft., constructed with polyolefin panels treated with UV protection, would even remotely be considered for any length of residency in a non-emergency situation. That hasn’t stopped the announcement from circulating over the last three years. But beyond the press release, not much else was said. No announcement was made about actual production schedules, deployment schedules, nor even cost. It seems as if the IKEA Flat Pack Shelter was little more than a project proposal; a napkin sketch myth.
Fast forward two years though to a post by Amar Toor on The Verge.
Toor followed up on the flat pack refugee shelters by acknowledging they were finally going into production, after being filed tested in refugee areas of Ethiopia, Iraq, and Lebanon. Ikea’s line of flat-pack refugee shelters are going into production, the Swedish furniture maker announced this week, after being tested among refugee families in Ethiopia, Iraq, and Lebanon. Each unit takes four adults about four hours to assemble and is designed to last for three years in moderate climates.
The Better Shelter also includes a solar panel which is installed on the roof, and charges an LED light inside the shelter. When fully charged the light can burn for 4 continuous hours during the night time at 20lm – 100 lm. The system can also charge a mobile phone through a USB port in the lamp. In addition, the windows and door can be placed in a number of configurations allowing the overall layout to be adapted to personal needs. The configuration of the vertical walls and high ceilings allow for beds, tables, shelves, and even medical equipment, to be present in the shelter, while sections can be added to make even longer structures. There may be significant merit to the Better Shelter after all.
In 2015, Better Shelter delivered more than 10,000 units for humanitarian operations worldwide. As of March 2016 IKEA Better Shelters have been deployed to Botswana, South Sudan, Niger, Greece, Chad, Djibouti, Macedonia, Iraq, Nepal, and Ethiopia.