Ikea's flat pack refugee shelter wins worldwide design of the year competition

The ready-to-assemble shelter has beaten the artwork on David Bowie's last album cover to win the top prize 

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The Independent Online

A flat-pack refugee shelter designed by Ikea has been crowned design of the year in the prestigious Beazley design competition

The ready-to-assemble shelter was created by the Swedish furniture giant in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

It beat the new Tate Modern Switch House and the artwork on the cover David Bowie’s last album. 

It also swept the prize for 2016 architecture design of the year. 

The Beazley Design Awards recognise the most original and exciting designs from around the world in six different categories, which include architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, products and transport.

The United Nations refugee agency and the not-for-profit Ikea Foundation joined forces to launch the Better Shelter Programme and created the structure in 2015 to “improve the lives of persons displaced by armed conflicts and natural disasters”. 

That year, Better Shelter delivered 10,000 shelters for humanitarian operations worldwide

Interim managing director of Better Shelter, Johan Karlsson, said he was “incredibly proud” to have won both awards.  

“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 said.

“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." 

Thousands of flat-pack shelters have been sent to humanitarian crisis points around the world as refugees faced freezing temperatures in Europe this winter. 

The distinctive white structures have dramatically improved the living conditions of refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. 

The shelters arrive in cardboard boxes and can be assembled in a few hours without tools, with the help of an illustrated manual.

Intended to sleep five people, they have windows, ventilation, a locking door and solar panel linking to an LED light and mobile phone charger.

Each shelter costs $1,150 (£773) and is intended to last for around three years.

Professor of Design at Kingston University, Daniel Charny, who nominated the project, hailed the flat-pack object as a “ground-breaking example for putting values and benefit above profit”. 

“Great design responds to needs, and there is no doubt that the refugee crisis is one of the biggest of our era. This social enterprise uses flat-pack technology to create more robust and appealing shelters for refugees, with a commitment to continuous improvement as the shelters are used across the world. 

“While it will not solve the crisis, it goes a long way to accelerate innovation, challenge unacceptable norms and communicate respect." 

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