A flat-pack refugee shelter, produced by the world’s largest furniture retailer has pipped an international field of architecture projects to win a prestigious global design award.

The ‘Better Shelter’ flat-pack housing unit, produced by Ikea and currently housing up to 120,000 displaced refugees in regions around the world, took out the Architecture award and the 2017 Grand Prize at the ninth annual Beazley Designs of the Year. 

The shelter beat 10 other built projects to earn its Architecture category prize, including works by Bjarke Ingels, MAD Architects, Herzog and De Meuron, OMA and Arup. It also pipped five other category winners to claim the main prize of Design of the Year.  

Better Shelter Managing Director Johan Karlsson says the award is a case of bitter sweet for the organisation.

“We are above all pleased that this prize brings attention to our hard work, and as a result, the refugee situation as a whole,” he says.

“We accept this award with mixed emotions – while we are pleased that this kind of design is honoured, we are aware that it has been developed in response to the humanitarian needs that have arisen as the result of the refugee crisis.”

Beazley Designs of the Year awards is hosted in conjunction with the Design Museum in London, who display the winning projects in an exhibition. Nominations for the award must promote or deliver change of an innovative design.  

As a sustainable and durable design, the Better Shelters have come a long way since their conception in 2010. Today, they are being put to good use in some of the most war-torn and destitute countries across the world.

The awards showcase and exhibition will be on display until 19 February 2017 at the Design Museum London. For more information about the exhibition click here.


At 17.5sqm, the shelter is twice as large as the current crop of refugee tents used by the UN and can accommodate five people. As is the Ikea specialty, the shelter’s walls, roof, floors, door and windows all come flat packed in cardboard boxes.

The shelters take an estimated four hours to assemble which is longer than the average assembly time for a tent. However no extra tools are needed.  The Better Shelter comprises four walls, four windows and one door, and a single gable roof.

The walls and primary roof are made from Rhulite, a lightweight polymer laminated with thermal insulation, which clips straight onto the shelter’s steel pole frame.  They were specifically developed for the project and are light weight for transportation but strong enough to withstand the harsh climates seen in refugee camps.

The material was developed to allow daylight to penetrate the shelter during the day but also to trap light sources emitting from inside the tent. This addresses privacy issues associated with normal tents that allow interior light sources to cast shadows onto the walls of people living inside them. The idea is that inhabitants will be more inclined to read, learn and engage at night time under artificial light.

The roof’s second element is a lightweight insulated technical metallic textile that is suspended like a parasol over a small air void and the primary roof. The metallic shadecloth is made with interlaced aluminium and polyolefin strips and is designed to reflect heat from the sun (70% solar reflection) during the day and heat from inside the tent during the night. On top of the shade net is a solar panel that is laminated on a thin plastic film and will generate electricity for a light and USB port inside the unit.

The shelter’s PV panel will charge the LED light during the day allowing it to be used at 20-100 lm output for up to four hours at night. Alternatively the system can charge a mobile phone


The tents currently used by the UNHCR are either traditional canvas ridge tents or hoop tents, which have a life expectancy of six months and cost less than $US500.