Better Shelter wins Beazley Design of the Year Competition

The Better Shelter emergency shelter was recently announced as the winner of both the Architecture Award and the winner of the Grand Prize in the 2017 Beazley Design of the Year Competition. 2017 marked the 9th time the annual competition had been held.

Better Shelter, which operates as a social enterprise and was developed in collaboration with IKEA and the UNHCR, is an emergency shelter which is described on its website as being “Designed to help the millions of people worldwide who have fled armed conflicts, persecution or natural disasters, who have often been through traumatic experiences, and who face an uncertain and extremely vulnerable future.”

It is 17.5 square metres, weighs 169 kilograms and is large enough to comfortably house 5 people. It has semi-hard, non-transparent walls, four windows and a high ceiling. The Shelter’s frame has been constructed using galvanised steel while the roof and wall panels are made from a recyclable plastic polymer. It includes a door which is lockable both from the inside and outside thereby helping to ensure protection of both people and (often limited) family items of possession. Better Shelter promotes the Shelter as becoming a “Home away from home in temporary settlements” for displaced people and says it “Resembles a house.”

The Shelter promotes sustainability in many different ways. To begin with the Shelter comes with a solar powered system which can power a light inside the tent for up to four hours or enable the user to charge a mobile phone. This helps provide light during hours of darkness and allows residents a higher level of safety, security and dignity during non-daylight hours.

Unlike the tents commonly used in refugee camps around the world, the Shelter, can be repaired more easily. If a tent becomes damaged it is then often the case that the entire tent needs to be replaced but with the Better Shelter individual components can be replaced instead of the entire Shelter. Furthermore, the Shelter can easily be dismantled, moved and reassembled. Assembly can be done with only four people and can be completed in around four hours.

At present, around 30,000 shelters have been installed and are in use around the world, with the capacity for many more to be erected and used. The Shelter is highly adaptable and can be used in different locations with different conditions around the world. The windows and doors of the Shelter can be placed in different positions in order to suit the location of the Shelter while other sections can be added or removed in order to create a shorter or longer structure.

The Better Shelter team acknowledge that while “It’s not luxury accommodation by any means” it is still a better alternative to residing in a standard refugee tent which can be easily damaged, or robbed, or worse still having no shelter at all.

Dr Jana Scholze, an Associate Professor of Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University and competition judge, is quoted by the Energy Matters website, as saying “Innovative, humanitarian and implemented, Better Shelter has everything that a Beazley Design of the Year should have.” She added that it is “Providing not only a design but secure manufacture as well as distribution [that] makes this project relevant and even optimistic. It shows the power of design to respond to the conditions we are in and transform them.”

Responding to their competition success, Better Shelter’s Johan Karlsson, is also quoted by Energy Matters as saying “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 a result of the refugee crisis.”