7 Design Concepts Tackle the Refugee Crisis

Innovators apply design thinking to the world's most pressing problems.


1. Refugee Challenge by What Design Can Do

Models and a drawing represent AgriShelter by Narges Mofarahian, one of five winning projects in a competition organized by What Design Can Do. Photography courtesy of What Design Can Do.


Makers Unite refugee vests waiting to be upcycled. Photography courtesy of What Design Can Do.


As millions of people flee to escape war, the Dutch nonprofit What Design Can Do, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency and the IKEA Foundation, released a call for solutions to the crisis. And entries from hundreds of designers, in 70 countries, poured in to the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge. Read the full story here.


2. Better Shelter by Nicolò Barlera, Christian Gustafsson, Tim de Haas, Dennis Kanter, Johan Karlsson, and John van Leer

Better Shelter by Nicolò Barlera, Christian Gustafsson, Tim de Haas, Dennis Kanter, Johan Karlsson, and John van Leer. Photography by Jonas Nyström. 


Better Shelter features a galvanized-steel frame and a solar-powered lamp. Photography by Märta Nyström Terne. 


There are already 16,000 Better Shelters in use around the world. And London’s Design Museum designated the shelter the winning Beazley Design of the Year, 2016. It is flat-pack, befitting partnership with the IKEA Foundation as well as the UN Refugee Agency, and has a galvanized-steel frame, polyolefin roof and wall panels, a door that locks, and a solar-powered lamp. The designers are a group of varied professionals in Stockholm: Nicolò Barlera, Christian Gustafsson, Tim de Haas, Dennis Kanter, Johan Karlsson, and John van Leer.


3. SolarKiosk by Graft Gesellschaft von Architekten

SolarKiosk by Graft Gesellschaft von Architekten. Photography by Andreas Spiess/SolarKiosk.


SolarKiosk provides electricity and sells solar lamps, water-purification systems, food, and beverages to refugees. Photography by Graft Gesellschaft von Architekten.


More than 1.5 billion people worldwide have no electricity to charge a cell phone or connect to WiFi. SolarKiosk addresses those needs in addition to selling solar lamps and water-purification systems, not to mention food and beverages. Graft Gesellschaft von Architekten designed the kiosk to be constructed from local materials, except for any electronic components. Operated by entrepreneurial partners, often women, each kiosk can supply 1,500 households. One kiosk serves the largest refugee camp in Jordan.


4. Social Furniture by Eoos

Manual from Buchhandlung Walther König for Social Furniture collection by Eoos. Photography by Grafisches Büro.


The collection's 18 pieces include a stool, bookcase, table, and chairs. Photography by Paul Kranzler.


A refugee shelter in Vienna is furnished with Social Furniture. Photography by Paul Kranzler.


Build it together. That’s the idea behind the Social Furniture collection by Eoos. Communities with little carpentry experience should be able to assemble the 18 pieces into a stool, a bookcase, a table, and chairs with the help of a 74-page manual from publisher Buchhandlung Walther König—as proved by a refugee shelter in Vienna that’s furnished with Social Furniture. Materials such as plywood can be used.


5. Welcome by Amarist Studio

Welcome, a limited-edition lamp by Amarist Studio. Photography courtesy of Amarist Studio.


The razor wire is plated in 24-karat gold. Photography courtesy of Amarist Studio.


Besides keeping refugees from crossing borders, razor wire can have more positive functions. It’s been plated in 24-karat gold and paired with Carrara marble, representing ancient Roman civilization, in Amarist Studio’s provocative Welcome, a limited-edition lamp standing 47 inches high.


6. Entrelac by NADAAA

Entrelac was originally an installation by NADAAA for Amman Design Week. Photography by Hareth Tabbalat/Amman Design Week.


Local women knit undyed wool yarn into blankets to keep Syrian refugees and poor Jordanian families warm. Photography by Hareth Tabbalat/Amman Design Week. 


For Amman Design Week in Jordan, NADAAA’s Nader Tehrani and artist Raya Kassisieh hired local women to knit an installation, Entrelac, from undyed wool yarn. That wool is now keeping Syrian refugees and poor Jordanian families warm, because the same women have turned it into Entrelac blankets, and NADAAA and Amman Design Week have underwritten delivery to the city of Mafraq, where refugees make up much of the population.


7. A Home Away From Home by Floris Alkemade and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers

Re-Settle polystyrene domes designed by René van Zuuk Architekten for the A Home Away From Home competition. Photography courtesy of A Home Away From Home.


Comfort City by Anneloes de Koff and Pieter Stoutjesdijk is constructed with CNC-milled modular panels. Photography courtesy of A Home Away From Home.


With refugees entering the Netherlands in record numbers, the country’s chief architect, Floris Alkemade, and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers organized A Home Away From Home, a competition to develop ideas for housing. The six resulting prototypes, exhibited during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, included the polystyrene domes of Re-Settle, designed by René van Zuuk Architekten, and Anneloes de Koff and Pieter Stoutjesdijk’s Comfort City, constructed with CNC-milled modular panels.


> See more from the March 2017 issue of Interior Design

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