Most widely known as the purveyor of stylish home furnishings that are shipped flat and assembled at home, IKEA is pioneering another type of product: refugee housing.
Prototypes of IKEA’s Refugee Housing Units (RHU) offer 18 square meters of living space for refugees, in the shape of lightweight plastic panels attached to a steel pole frame, which comes in the iconic flatpack format that the furniture giant is known for.
The huts include a top that can absorb the sun’s heat during the day and radiate it to the inside space at night, and a small modular solar panel capable of charging a battery and providing electricity to a light for nighttime activities.
Refugees are typically housed in tents, which have a limited lifespan when exposed to the extreme heat and winds present in many locations (sometimes being rendered useless in as little as 6 months). In contrast, the RHU huts are expected to last for years, giving a better sense of security to the inhabitants.
The plastic siding of the huts is made with a polymer (Rhulite), that is said to let in sunlight during the day, yet keep inhabitants from being backlit at night for privacy concerns.
According to Spiegel, 13 of the hut prototypes were put up at the Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia last year, which will serve to help give the company a better understanding of what the new design is capable of. The cost for these first handmade units is still high (~$7,000) for widespread adoption, but the designers hope to bring that price down to somewhere around $1000 once in production.
Find out more about what IKEA is doing to create a better world at IKEA Foundation.
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