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A new way to shelter refugees amid natural disaster

Unlike flimsy tents, Create Structure—a winner of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—features a recyclable steel frame and can be reinforced with local materials, providing shelter for refugees and disaster survivors.

A new way to shelter refugees amid natural disaster
[Photo: Better Shelter]

Natural disasters displace as many as 30 million people a year, a figure that the Institute for Economics and Peace predicts could soar to 1.2 billion by 2050. Uprooted people often must settle for flimsy tents, but Create Structure offers a better alternative, a reusable and recyclable shelter comprised of a galvanized steel frame and a thick, rain-resistant tarp; it transforms from a flat pack to an almost 188-square-foot abode in an hour. If it sounds like an IKEA product, that’s because it is.

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[Photo: Better Shelter]
Create Structure—winner of the architecture category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—is a spin-off of Better Shelter, a Swedish organization that has partnered for 12 years with the IKEA Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide 68,000 relief housing units in 78 countries. The spiraling climate-displacement crisis demands ever more affordable and durable options. Structure home frames cost $365, can be shipped within hours of a disaster, and are designed to last up to 10 years.

[Photo: Better Shelter]
Structures have been tested in climate-prone locations, including at the base of volcanoes in Rwanda, and landslide-affected Kerala, India. Local aid groups—such as the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat in Tajikistan—distribute the structures and help residents reinforce them with local materials, like thatch, wattle, and daub in Rwanda, and split bamboo and areca nut palm in Kerala. That makes a structure feel less like an emergency stopgap shelter, says Emma Riley, Structure’s cofounder and head of development, and more like “a small home worth living in.”

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