Swedish furniture giant Ikea will produce 10,000 flat-pack temporary shelters for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) which will be used to house up to 50,000 refugees in camps around the world.

First developed and tested as a prototype in 2013, the UNHCR have now purchased 10,000 of the Ikea Foundation's ‘Better Shelter’ units that are designed to replace the traditional canvas ridge and more modern hoop tents currently being used in the majority of refugee camps.

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.

The Ikea Better Shelters are reported to last up to three years and come with a price tag of around $US7,500 for a single unit. However, in 2013 the designers did say that were hopeful that they could settle on a cost of around $US1,000 per unit once they were in mass production.

The designers also predict that the shelters will be improved in the future to incorporate rammed earth walls, metal roofs and Organic Photo Voltaic cells (OPV) that could be printed directly onto the shade net and scale up enough solar power to run water purification and cooking devices.

Images: The Ikea Foundation. and Wired Magazine.