“We can ship in something that provides emergency relief, but then you can upgrade it locally,” says Johan Karlsson, managing director of Better Shelter, the organization making the new shelter, called Structure.
Better Shelter, a social enterprise based in Sweden and founded in partnership with the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, has created emergency and temporary sustainable housing for communities displaced by any climate, political, or natural catastrophic crisis.
With pilot sites for its new shelters, called “Structure,” currently in India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Rwanda, its short-term solutions provide a sustainable response to any climate or political event that has left millions homeless.
The nonprofit first launched flat-packed shelters with IKEA in 2015 as Syrian refugees were fleeing to Europe.
Since 2015, the company has delivered modular homes in flat packages that could be speedily assembled without the need for tools or electricity.
The original shelters, with sturdy panels to make up the walls and roof, a door, and the option of solar panels, was expensive.
Structure—the organization’s new shelter—with its simple frame can be covered with a tarp and eventually recovered with other materials, is nearly four times less costly, at $365.
Equipped with a lockable door and a solar-powered lamp, the Structure can be used immediately but later strengthened with local materials such as bamboo, sorghum, or twigs mixed with mud or clay.
When local construction is possible, Karlsson says, it makes sense to support the purchase of those materials and create jobs rather than shipping in a fully finished home from donors.
“You can stimulate the local economy,” he says.
“And the investment that you make in a humanitarian response to save lives also can link into early recovery.”
Better Shelter began working with nonprofits in a handful of countries in 2020 to test the design.
In a pilot in the southern Indian state of Kerala, for example, a nonprofit partner built a small number of the homes after massive flooding.
In Tajikistan, a nonprofit planned to test the design for use as disaster shelters after a landslide but ended up using them for COVID-19 medical stations.
When the pandemic ends, the shelters can be disassembled, moved, and reused.
When upgraded with local materials, the structure is expected to last as long as 10 years.
Designers: Better Shelter
Manufacturer: Better Shelter
Partners: IKEA Foundation and UNHCR
Photographers: Sameer Raichur