Better Shelter wins Beazley design award

The Better Shelter can be assembled in about four hours.
The Better Shelter can be assembled in about four hours.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The shelter comes in two boxes, along with the tools that someone would need to assemble it. It can be put together in about four hours. It has a front door that can be locked. And a solar-powered wall.

This is Better Shelter, a project that was recently named the Beazley Design of the Year, an annual award given by the Design Museum in London.

The news of Better Shelter's award, which showcases an innovation designed to help those who are displaced, comes as refugee and immigration issues come into focus in the United States and around the globe, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere.

The news came in the same week in which US President Donald Trump signed an executive order, called Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States, to put a 120-day suspension on refugee admissions. During the presidential election campaign, he had called for "extreme vetting" of those who wanted to migrate to the US.

Included in Mr Trump's executive order: "The Secretary of State shall suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days."

In a news release, a judge for the design awards said that the flat-packed shelter "tackles one of the defining issues of the moment: providing shelter in an exceptional situation whether caused by violence and disaster."

"Sadly, we have seen many instances recently where temporary shelter was necessary," the judge, Dr Jana Scholze, an associate professor at Kingston University, said in the release. "Providing not only a design but also secure manufacture as well as distribution makes this project relevant and even optimistic."

She continued: "It shows the power of design to respond to the conditions we are in and transform them. Innovative, humanitarian and implemented, Better Shelter has everything that a Beazley Design of the Year should have."

Better Shelter, which also won the architecture category of the awards, partners with the Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations refugee agency, according to the organisation's website.

Mr Johan Karlsson, initiator and interim managing director of Better Shelter, said in a news release: "We are above all pleased that this prize brings attention to our hard work and, as a result, the refugee situation as a whole. 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."

A report in The Guardian newspaper carried quotes from refugees Hind and Saffa Hameed, who in 2015 moved to a refugee camp in Iraq. They had fled their home because of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group, The Guardian reported, and "had never been so glad to see an Ikea product".

"If you compare life in the tents and life in these shelters, it's a thousand times better," Saffa, 34, was quoted as telling UNHCR. "The tents are like a piece of clothing and they would always move. We lived without any privacy. It was so difficult."

The Guardian reports that although the shelters cost more than tents, they provide some security and are more durable, holding together for "at least three years".

That could be helpful now, as refugees face the grim prospect of staying in temporary living situations for longer periods.

CNN reported that Better Shelter units, which are large enough for a family of five, have been shipped to Iraq, Djibouti, Greece and Niger. They have also been used as clinics, according to the network.

It reported that 16,000 of the structures have been shipped since production began in 2015. The Design Museum's news release said 30,000 of the shelters were in use.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Better Shelter wins Beazley design award'. Print Edition | Subscribe