Better Shelter’s Johan Karlsson speaks at the Seoul Design Award Conference

On October 25-26 2022, the 4th Seoul Design Award Conference was held in the capital of South Korea, connecting professionals and practitioners across the fields of design, architecture, urban planning, social science and more, to discuss the many ways design can tackle the most pressing challenges in our world today.

This year’s conference highlighted the importance of broader social inclusion, and the contributions of non-professionals to improve daily life and coexistence for a sustainable future.

©Seoul Design Award

Better Shelter Managing Director, Johan Karlsson spoke at the first day of the conference, delivering a keynote address emphasising the importance to engage with local communities and supply chains, supporting greater locally-led humanitarian action.

Karlsson began his keynote by introducing the genesis of the Relief Housing Unit (RHU), how the impact of a flat-pack design has resulted in hundreds of thousands gaining access to a safe and dignified shelter, durable against unique climates, and lasting as needed throughout the entire duration of displacement.

The RHU has been the standard shelter solution in humanitarian action where local markets are not available. ©Ali Haj Suleiman

But when humanitarian needs are growing in regions where displacement is protracted and climate disaster is intensified, it is important to ensure that displaced communities have the autonomy to build their shelter with a long-term perspective, in line with their skills, traditions and preferences.

“We will continue to provide complete prefabricated solutions, in many cases there are no alternatives”.

Johan Karlsson, Managing Director, Better Shelter

©Seoul Design Award

The RHU Structure is then the shelter solution that is prioritised when the opportunity to localise is available. Launched in 2020, Karlsson concluded his keynote with the RHU Structure representing the future of humanitarian shelter, shifting the role of the designer as facilitator, making way for local communities to lead the shelter-building process.

“As designers, this changes our role a lot. From prescribing a ready made solution, to be a facilitator and co-designer of developing a building, and working and relying on local expertise.

Johan Karlsson, Managing Director, Better Shelter

The RHU Structure is a steel frame designed to be clad with local materials. ©Sameer Raichur

Watch the full first day of the Seoul Design Award Conference below: