A Ready-Made Library For Humanitarian Crisis Victims

A Ready-Made Library For Humanitarian Crisis Victims

Designer Philippe Starck creates Ideas Box, a simple and elegant solution to a current logistical nightmare.

Dave Pinter, PSFK
  • 10 april 2014

Easy access to information is something most of us take for granted. In some parts of the world however just being able to browse a few books is nearly impossible, especially for people who are refugees or victims of a humanitarian crisis. Immediate living necessities including clean water, food, shelter clothing and medical care in these situations are the primary concern. What has to follow is community building and a key component of that is shared access to information. Getting that type of resource assembled, packaged and deployed to an area, sometime a very remote one, has in in the past faced a long list of logistical challenges. Libraries Without Borders, an organization with a mission of promoting learning through access to information understood the problem and turned to design to find an answer.


PSFK attended the launch event for the project at the New York Public Library where we learned that Patrick Weil, Chairman of Libraries Without Borders had never worked with a designer before but knew of Philippe Starck. Weil recounted that he sent Starck a letter asking for design help understanding that with his high-profile clients and busy schedule, a reply might not come. Some time passed and Weil did get a reply from Starck who not only agreed to do the project but also to complete it pro bono.

Philippe Starck

The result is Ideas Box, a ready-made portable multi-media information center. The solution required Starck to get six fundamental features just right. It had to be global, portable, user-friendly, adaptable, efficient to produce, and effective for humanitarian workers looking to establish as a donor platform.

Ideas Box starts out as five modules that fit on two standardized shipping palettes. Each module is a reinforced box, color coded to a distinct function. The yellow management module is the hub, and serves as a general work desk and check in area.

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

The orange library module contains books, games, and creative supplies.

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

The blue cinema module has an integrated display and sound system powered by a portable generator. The box enclosure converts to seating.

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

Tablets, e-readers and video cameras are stored in the IT module. The enclosure converts to a low table for children.

Ideas Box at New York Public Library

The grey cases convert to tables and store folding chairs. A single Ideas Box can provide table seating for 24 people. Each table can be set up with a USB power hub. Wi-fi is provided.

The first implementation of Ideas Box started in Burundi where 37,000 refugees from the eastern part of Congo now live. This video shows how valuable Ideas Box is as a resource to the people of the area. Libraries Without Borders intends to deploy Ideas Box to four other refugee camps in the African Great Lakes region in a two year test to refine the program in an effort to provide the most useful service possible.

Libraries Without Borders // Philippe Starck
Images: Dave Pinter



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