Better Shelter: IKEA and UN deliver 10.000 modular homes to refugee families

With more people forcibly displaced than ever before (a jarring 59.5 million people in 2014 according to UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency), the IKEA Foundation’s Better Shelter program hopes to supply more liveable temporary housing for millions of refugees from Syria and around the world.

Better Shelter

Better Shelter modular homes are 57 square feet and offer twice as much floor space as the typical cotton canvas tents that comprise most refugee camps. One entire unit comes in two(!) cardboard boxes, meaning it is cheaply transported and easily assembled in 4-8 hours. The steel-framed structures feature windows, mosquito nets, lights, ventilation, and a lockable door to keep women and children safe from sexual violence, a common problem in many refugee camps, Yahoo News reports. Incredibly, the shelter also comes with solar panels that can charge batteries and power four hours of LED lighting at night.

A single structure costs $1,150 to produce, three times the cost of a normal UNHCR tent – but according to Better Shelter “the expected lifespan is 3 years and the house can be disassembled and reused when needed.”

  • Better Shelter framework

    Better Shelter framework

Democratic Design

IKEA wouldn’t be IKEA without extensive testing and improving on prototypes. On the extensive trial runs in Syria and Ethiopia, managing director Anders Rexare Thulin told IRIN “the refugees have been involved in the process from the beginning. We have received regular feedback from families living in the structures, and we made sure we incorporated their comments in our design.”

Previously, the IKEA Foundation also provided solar lamps to refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Jordan. UNHCR has ordered a whopping 10.000 units, that are being deployed in Syria, Iraq and the European Union.

“Putting refugee families and their needs at the heart of this project is a great example of how democratic design can be used for humanitarian value. We are incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home.” Jonathan Spampinato, head of the Ikea Foundation’s strategic planning and communications, said in a statement.

  • Better Shelter prototypes in Ethiopia

The IKEA Foundation and Better Shelter certainly deserve all praise for rising to an unprecedented challenge. By designing a high quality modular accommodation that is not only economical, but also sustainable, they are paving the way for a long term solution to a very real problem.

Organisations and individuals interested can donate a shelter this Christmas. Click here for more information »

Burning Man: Here to stay?

Every year, thousands of people from all across the globe make their way to Black Rock Desert in Nevada to raise a sprawling, temporary metropolis, Black Rock City. As the name implies, Black Rock Desert is not the friendliest of environments. All sorts of extremes, from freezing cold and sand storms to bug plagues constantly batter the place, home to Burning Man festival. And still, tickets sell out every year. This year’s much coveted tickets for Burning Man sold out within an hour, with many a celebrity getting their hands on one.

Burning Man is more popular than ever, and change might be on the horizon for this annual oasis for utopianism and collectivism.

  • Black Rock City

The high level of organisation that characterises the event is reflected in the circle and pentagon that Black Rock City creates in accommodating its 68,000+ visitors. Not your typical field of festival tents, it is a structured temporary city. Roads labelled by the hour of the clock, and concentric rings with alphabetically arranged names allow for a crystal clear coordination system for its inhabitants as well as emergency services. There are no supermarkets or food trucks present; food, water and beverages are all to be brought by the visitors. With no readily available accommodation provided, most “Burners” stay in their own tents or rented RV’s.

Black Rock City is a ‘temporary city’ in the most literal sense. “The Man” sculpture at the centre of the ring, as well as all other structures are torched-down at the end of the festival. An impressive feat is the festival’s “Leaving No Trace” policy, ensuring absolutely no waste is left behind.

  • The annual temple at Burning Man

  • Burning of “The Man” ceremony

  • Communal cleaning after all structures are torched down

New York Magazine reports that last year, Burning Man leadership renewed efforts to buy up and develop a nearby property, the geyser-filled Fly Ranch, which they’d been eyeing for years. As co-founder Goodell recently said on a podcast called “Positive Head, “For the long-term survival of the culture, we are going to need a physical space … We will, as time goes by, find it hard to only be in the Black Rock Desert. We may need to find a place that would allow for infrastructure. I’m certain that’s in our future.”

“Employees and affiliates may build on a ‘Homestead’ basis, or rent or buy into the Village community at the project’s north end,” he wrote in his proposal.

Another co-founder, Will Rogers, envisions a utopian future for Fly Ranch: “I fondly hope that this concept can develop rapidly, and become not only a destination for learning and wonder, but a model to the world of a community, although remote, that is ideal and sustainable. It is for the Burning Man Project to create this wilderness paradise.”

Burning Man first attempted to buy the land back in 2005. According to New York Magazine “They tried again a few years ago, but the asking price was around $11 million to $12 million, and they only raised about a half-million dollars, he said. But last year, the landowner Sam Jasick passed away, leaving his son Todd in charge, and Todd said he’d welcome another offer.”

  • Fly Ranch Geyser

To be sure, developing an area of 4,000 acres, mostly desert and wetlands, would cost large amounts of money and last year the organisation began to offer tours of the Fly Ranch to potential investors. In a statement, now taken offline but still available on the Wayback Machine, the organisation says: “The Burning Man Project is pleased to announce the initiation of the preliminary stages of the development of the Fly Geyser property.” Why the statement was taken offline is still unclear.

Burning Man might not be the first organisation with big dreams about utopianism and collectivism, as Inverse reminds us, but the acclaimed festival finds itself at the forefront of the international events scene. It could well become the first event of its kind to establish a permanent base, a “community”, which makes it one of the most relevant and interesting festivals of the moment.

Here at G3 we will be following these developments very closely.