A few years ago, Ikea announced it had designed a better refugee shelter, using its flatpack furniture as a basis for engineering. As great an idea as it was, it wasn’t clear how the concept would ever find its way to reality. Now, these Ikea refugee shelters will be deployed—by the thousands.
The Ikea Foundation is the mega-corporation’s wing devoted to social issues in the developing world. Working with UN, the Foundation spent years prototyping shelters that could replace the fragile tents that are used by the UN to house refugees right now—which are beholden to the cold (or hot), and provide little protection from storms, not to mention privacy. It was a worthy cause, but more was at stake than design—cost, logistics, politics, and the way aid organizations supply their workers on the ground make the issue of refugee housing incredibly complex.