The awesome thing about being a designer, rather than a politician, is that our problems and solutions are much more clear-cut. Take the issue of the millions of refugees currently fleeing Syria and elsewhere: Even a compassionate politico eager to house them must first win consensus from potentionally xenophobic constituents. But for the designer, the only problem within our purview is that these people need temporary low-cost housing--so how can we marshal our knowledge of materials and construction to provide it?
The designers of the nonprofit Better Shelter organization have done it. Formed in a collaboration between UNHCR (The U.N. Refugee Agency) and the Ikea Foundation, the organization's shelter design has taken cues from the latter's namesake, providing a flatpacked structure that is assembled on-site.
The Sweden-based designers have got the structure down to two flat shipping boxes, each of which can be lifted by four people at the corners.
Inside are 71 steel pipes and attendant connectors that form the rough frame.
Also in the boxes are 35 panels which are then affixed to the frame.
While glass is obviously out of the question, ventilation and some illumination are provided by louvered "windows" dotting the structure.
Perhaps most impressively, each unit ships with a photovoltaic array that mounts to the roof. On a sunny day, this can harvest enough solar power to provide four hours of light from the included LED lamp. It can also be used to charge a cell phone.
The design team has extensively tested the prototypes, and they've gotten the construction time down to an estimated 4 to 8 hours for a team of four people--all without needing to use any tools that aren't included in the kit. Here's the unpacking and build process, time-lapsed down to less than five minutes, so you can see what's entailed:
This is no mere concept, by the way. This year Better Shelter has delivered 4,728 units distributed across countries including Chad, Djibouti, Greece, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Macedonia and others. Below is footage of an actual camp using the shelters in Greece. During the construction phase, you can see the step that was skipped in the time-lapse video above, which is the mooring of the foundation:
The structures are more durable than the tents commonly used to create refugee camps. They're also, necessarily, more expensive. According to the nonprofit poverty-fighting Borgen Project:
The Better Shelters cost about $1,150, about twice as much as the makeshift tarp tents that spring to mind when refugee camps are mentioned. This is mostly because the shelters are more akin to mobile homes. The locking doors add a layer of security and privacy that is currently all but forgotten in the overcrowded camps, and could help reduce the staggeringly high rate of sexual assault. With weatherproof walls, interior lighting and a solid foundation, the shelters are designed to last for about three years. That's six times as long as the standard tents usually last.
"Even though the upfront price is double that of an emergency tent, the solution is still more cost effective considering its longevity," explains Johan Karlsson, head of Business Development at Better Shelter. "We're working hard to get it below $1,000, and we see good potential to achieve this within the next two years."
UNHCR isn't waiting for the price to come down; the production run commissioned for 2015 was 10,000 units. With the aforementioned 4,728 already deployed, it's not yet clear where the remaining 5,272 will be shipped. We must wait, it seems, for the politicians to sort it out.
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This is a great bit of design. Even at double the price of the pop up tents its still cheap enough to be implemented.