The Refugee housing Project is a two year long project to design a better refugee shelter, driven by belief that every child deserves a safe place to call home. One prototype that is currently under review is used and tested by refugees living in UNHCR refugees camps in Ethiopia.
The project is a unique collaboration between the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU – a subsidiary of the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) orchestrated by the IKEA Foundation. Testing in the field by refugees will inform a final shelter design, to ensure it offers dignified and secure housing for the millions of vulnerable refugee families fleeing war zones, natural disasters or areas of political unrest.
The shelters – simply called “Refugee Housing Units” (RHU) - give a longer-lasting alternative to currently-used refugee tents, which typically have a life span of only six months and are not always suitable for housing refugee families who can live in camps for over 12 years. Not only does these leave vulnerable families even more exposed to the challenges of life in a refugee camp, but it also presents a huge burden to the aid agencies and governments trying to create a more dignified life for the millions of people who have had to flee their own homes.
The Refugee Housing Unit shelters last years and have both durability and dignity in mind, giving refugee families a more comfortable and secure place to call home during a time of enormous personal upheaval. They are modular; offer better security; ventilated and each have a renewable energy source.
The Refugee Housing Units are still in the design and testing phase. As of September 1st 2013 fifty-two units are being tested in Ethiopia and Iraq. By sourcing feedback from the families who are actually occupying them and adopting a collaborative approach to the project, this partnership of private and third sector organisations hopes to make further improvements to the prototype shelters.
Any given year millions of people loose their homes and belongings in natural disasters and conflicts. Many of those seek refugee in humanitarian camps for access to shelter, food and clean water. Many stay for years – and generations – with little opportunity to affect the situation and secure the everyday life of family and friends. The emergency shelter turns into a home.
The lifespan of today’s emergency shelter solutions is short in relation to the cost of purchase, logistics and warehousing. The solutions used are quickly worn out and create little long-term value. Life in camps doesn’t get easier in shelter solutions designed for completely different living situations and cultures. The project builds on the belief that rational system solutions can create better emergency housing and improved everyday living in the aftermath of disasters and conflicts.
The need of emergency housing is growing year by year – this mean we will need more money or – create more value for the money spent. If every housing unit gets cheaper we can help more people. This is a simple equation.
KEY REQUIREMENTS AND DESIGN DRIVERS
Cost-efficiency The humanitarian needs constantly exceed the humanitarian budget and appeals. No trends indicate this will change in the future. More cost effective solutions allowing for even better spending is key. The average stay in a camp of a refugee under UNHCR concern is 12 years. The lifespan if a tent is 6 months. At double the cost of tent, the Refugee Housing Unit offers a life span which is at least 3 years and upgradable, repairable and re-usable enabling significantly reduce life-cycle costs.
Production- capacity. Any given year 40-50 million people loose their homes in natural and man made disasters. Scalable solution which over a few weeks and months can be distributed to 10:s and 100:s of thousands people are needed. The RHU uses fully automated production processes to meet high and peaking demand while ensuring high production quality and minimal use of materials.
Flat-packed. Most refugee camps are situated in very remote and hard to access areas. Logistics is a key challenge in terms speed of implementation (takes long time to ship in building supplies) and costs (logistics costs in shelters are at times as high as the cost of the shelter itself). Reducing weight and volume is key to reach as many people as possible in the phase of an emergency. The Refugee Housing Unit is flat packed and ships in a boxed size are as low as 1 CBM and when in serial production the weigh is estimated to 120 kg.
Modular and adaptable: Fly-in solutions are often functionally, culturally and socially inappropriate. Use of pre-fab shelters negates an extremely important function of shelter: the need for family, community, social, and cultural expression.. The Refugee Housing Unit is designed around a modular framework which allows it to be adapted in size and function depending on the context and it can be be modified/upgraded with local materials.
Non-permanent A frequent challenge for humanitarian shelter programmes is that structures resembling anything that could be perceived as a permanent housing solution is not allowed by the land owner or host community. As a result the refugees are left with little options but tents and makeshift shelters – even in cases where its widely known that the refuge situation will continued for years. The Refugee Housing Unit is modular and can easily be dismantled. It requires no slab or concrete foundation and can be removed without any traces in the landscape.
The project is on-going and all objectives have not yet been fully met. It is estimated that the design phase will end and commercial production start within the next 6-12 months.
Identify, design and commercialize a sustainable solution which brings access to significantly safer and more comfortable shelter to last from the event of an emergency until a semi permanent solution is achieved (3-36 months).
The Refugee Housing Unit have been conceptualised and prototyped in several cycles during the last three years. 60 Prototypes of a have been manufactured of which 28 have been shipped for testing in Ethiopia and the remaining 32 units have or are soon to be shipped to Lebanon, Iraq and Sweden. Technical testing has been carried out in parallel to product design and test protocols are available.
The RHU is designed to fulfill its function for three years of normal use in the most severe conditions with a minimum of maintenance. Lifespan is defined as intended user time 3 years. The estimated market price for the full unit including a shade net and renewable energy system is $1200 USD. As a comparison, the lifespan is >6x the lifespan of an emergency tent meaning that the lifecycle cost excluding logistics and handling expenditures is reduced by 67%. As important, the Refugee Housing Unit is being developed and tested against European building standards in terms of safety, health and comfort ensuring adequate comfort and safety for vulnerable populations.
Producers are secured for all product articles and quotes have been received for the majority of these. The Refugee Housing Unit is confident that the price target of $1000 USD excluding a shade net and $1200 USD including a shade net can be reached.
Co-design: The UN Refugee Agency staff have been in the project steering committee and involved in the hands on development ensuring that the UNHCR expertise have been share and integrated in the design
Interviews and user participation. Former refugees from the Dadaab camp in Kenya where interviewed and involved in the pre-study of the project, sharing their experience of living in the camps and ideas of improving the shelters.
Field Testing: After having passed technical laboratory tests the Refugee Housing Units are currently undergoing filed tests where refugees have been building and are now living inside the shelters. A feed back programme is set up with the refugees including questioners, photo documentation and interviews. The field-testing is scheduled for six months and will inform forthcoming design revisions.
Refugees and Internally displaced people are found globally in all regions and represent shifting requirements of most diverse cultures and climates. Emergencies are per definition not foreseen and a true challenge of designing refugee housing units is that the end-user is unknown. The Refugee Housing Unit is designed to work in most regions and winter/hot climate expansions are currently in development to be used in extremely hot and cold climates.
To meet the diverse challenges the Refugee Housing unit have partnered with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR to embody the organisations vast knowledge of humanitarian operations and set the requirements of the design as well as the testing of the prototypes. . The project have been funded by the IKEA Foundation.
The project have partnered with a wide range of companies, mostly from within the packaging and automotive industry to transfer the knowledge from these industries (high volume production and low cost/weight criteria) to benefit the development of the Refugee Housing Unit.
The project have also partnered with the faculty of built environment at the Eindhoven University of Technology to ensure that the shelter specifications is aligned with international standards/building codes and that the structure itself provide a sound, predictable performance.
The Refugee Housing Units are designed to be safe and provide a healthy and more comfortable living environment. This has an impact not only on the emergency phase and saving life in the immediate aftermath of a disaster - but also to contribute to development. In the humanitarian field this is often referred to "building back better" – meaning that humanitarian aid should not only contribute to saving lives, but also to creating sustainable communities after disasters.
The Refugee Housing Unit do not only provide a temporary home in the immediate aftermath of a disasters, it also contributes to sustainable development in the societies where used; economically, socially and environmentally.
Economically: With its longer lifecycle the design is extremely cost efficient while it still provides better safety, comfort and dignity than common emergency tents. A cost efficient design means that more people can be reached within the same budget,
Socially: It is a safe place to call home. By protecting from the elements and meeting strict requirements of health and comfort it prevents and help the recovery from diseases and allows people to use time otherwise used to find shelter to participate in livelihood programmes or educational activities.
Environmentally: The use of pre-fabricated the common problem of deforestation around refugee camps and enables safe shelters in areas where natural resources are scarce. The shelter do not use any toxic adhesives or materials which are harmful to the environment.
The project is still only in prototyping and testing phase. It is too early to track the impact of these prototypes to the beneficiaries who are living inside them.
A feedback programme has been set-up to include:
User insight: Questionnaires, video recordings and interviews. Starting from setting up the test (done) and will be followed up by an interim review after 3 months and a final review after 6 months.
Technical monitoring: continuous measurement of technical performance including temperature (inside/outside), moisture (inside/outside), oxygen/co2 levels, air transmittance, windload, sun load (UV) and rain.
The Refugee Housing Unit is depending on on partnerships, both with humanitarian agencies, private companies and with designers. By connecting the the humanitarian agencies with the the private sector through a user-centered design process there is a great untapped opportunity in creating better homes and environment for people displaced by conflicts and natural disasters. The Refugee Housing Unit prototype is one significant step in creating significant impact, but it is still only the starting point of what could be done in the future.
The official recognition and awareness of winning the price will help us to build even stringer partnerships in the future, with humanitarian agencies, funders, private companies and not least, attract talented industrial designer who can facilitate this change to happen.
Accessibility to the user. Great design most comes with great user insight. User insight requires to be able to work with and learn from the ends users. Refugee camps are not tourist resorts. Working in camps and even accessing them is hard due to logistics and security. We are present in the field in both Ethiopia and soon Iraq, it is a challenging environment to work within and thing tend to take much longer than estimated. We would hope to have more insights from the testing ready already, but bare with us. We will present the findings as soon as we have gone throughout the testing phase.
The project is still in design and development phase. The real, final impact has not yet been proven.