Coronavirus: Italian architect designs intensive-care units in containers
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Coronavirus: Italian architect designs intensive-care units in containers

Credit: CURA project

World-known innovator Carlo Ratti has redesigned shipping containers to intensive-care units for corona patients with severe symptoms. The first prototype is currently built in Milan by an international task force of designers, engineers, medical professionals, and military experts.

In the last weeks, hospitals in the countries most affected by COVID-19 have been struggling to increase their capacity to admit a growing number of patients with severe respiratory diseases. Whatever the evolution of the pandemic, it is expected that more intensive-care units (ICU) will be needed internationally in the next few months.

The project, named CURA (cure in Latin), is a response to the shortage of ICUs in hospitals. CURA aims to improve the efficiency of existing solutions in the design of field hospitals, tailoring them to the current pandemic.

According to the team, the response to the emergency so far has been to set up makeshift emergency hospitals such as tents, or build new prefabricated wards with biocontainment.

While the latter option is time and resource-intensive, the former one exposes medical professionals to a higher risk of contamination and adds operational strain, especially in the long run.

Learning from both approaches, CURA strives to be as fast to mount as a hospital tent, but as safe as a hospital’s isolation ward to work in, thanks to biocontainment (an extractor creates indoor negative pressure, complying with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms AIIRs).

CURA follows the standards for COVID-19 hospitals issued by the Chinese authorities, while speeding up execution. Each CURA unit or pod would contain all the medical equipment needed for two COVID-19 intensive-care patients – including respirators and intravenous fluids stands. All units can be connected by an inflatable corridor.

The CURA units are being conceived as a ready-to-use solution. Each unit works autonomously and can be shipped anywhere. Individual pods are connected by an inflatable structure to create multiple modular configurations (from 4 beds to over 40), which can be deployed in just a few hours.

Some pods can be placed in proximity to a hospital (e.g. in parking lots) to expand the ICU capacity, while others could be used to create self-standing field hospitals of varying sizes.

“The project is still is at the initial phase – we started working all together around a week ago,” the CURA team told The Brussels Times. “This means that many technical aspects are still being defined right now by the task force.”

“We aim to have the first prototype completed in Milan in around three weeks. We are aware that now in Europe many supply chains have been disrupted. However, our idea is that CURA could be available with all equipment needed.”

As CURA is still being developed as a prototype, the cost will depend on the number of units to be produced and shipped but the team believe that CURA should be competitive compared to other existing solutions of this kind.

“At this preliminary stage, we are also starting to look at scaling up production ourselves. We’ll upload online all the technical specifications so that anybody can reproduce and install the CURA pods where most needed. That’s part of the open-source spirit of this initiative.”

An architect and engineer by training, Carlo Ratti has become a world-known innovator, listed in international rankings among those few shaping and influencing our future. He works in Italy and teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he directs the SENSEable City Lab.

Among his many tasks, he has been special adviser to the European Commission on urban innovation.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times