Flatpack solar-powered refugee housing is IKEA's latest design

A team of IKEA designers have taken on a challenge a little different from their usual fun with flatpack philosophy. To aid the thousands of refugees who can live in tent camps for a dozen years, IKEA set out to design a more durable and permanent dwelling.

The result, prosaically named the refugee housing unit (RHU) is a lightweight building with two doors, solar power to provide energy for nighttime lighting, a cover that absorbs heat during the day and emits it back during chilly nights, and 18 square meters of living space.

© IKEA Foundation

The RHU is not cheap to manufacture - the cost is more than US $7,000 - at least not yet. But it is fairly easy to transport. IKEA's RHUs come in flatpack boxes and are supposed to be assembled in half a day - though some camp dwellers say it takes closer to all day.

Many camp tents can succumb quickly to harsh desert-like climates like those in refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia within six months, but IKEA RHUs are build to last at least three years.

The roof panels of the IKEA housing units are pretty much the same rugged plastic used in Porta-Potty construction, placed atop a steel pole frame. The house siding is a new polymer called Rhulite that lets in light during the day but doesn't show shadows when lit from within at night.

The single solar panel that ships with the housing unit will light a lamp as well as power a single USB outlet.

According to the UN's Refugee Housing Agency about 3.5 million people live in refugee tents worldwide.

Once the RHUs are tested in Ethiopia IKEA hopes to start mass production and reduce current cost.

Tags: Flat Pack | Housing Industry | Solar Power

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