9-11 May 2023
ICC Sydney

Shipping containers, emergency departments of the future?

In the race to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, designers are creating innovative solutions to help hospitals around the world expand their emergency services. Annie Reid reports.

Designed in Italy, CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments) is a worldwide healthcare solution with the first CURA pod successfully built and installed at a temporary hospital in Turin, one of the world’s hardest hit regions.

CURA pod design elements

Built from a 20-foot intermodal shipping container and repurposed with biocontainment equipment, the CURA pods are quick-to-deploy, plug-in intensive care units (ICU) that act as self-isolation wards to safely treat patients affected by COVID-19. Each pod contains all the medical equipment needed for two ICU patients, including ventilators and monitors, intravenous fluid stands and syringe drivers, with an extractor to create indoor negative pressure.

They work autonomously and can be promptly shipped to any location around the world. Furthermore, the inflatable unit can be used to connect more than one pod to create multiple modular configurations, either in proximity to a hospital or as a self-standing field hospital.

Photo credit: Max Tomasinelli

Race against time

CURA was conceived and built in four weeks by a global task force including international design and innovation office, Carlo Ratti Associati, and Italo Rota, supported by the World Economic Forum with sponsorship from UniCredit.

“In less than three weeks we received inquiries from hundreds of organisations and professionals from all over the world,” the CURA team says.

As a result, several more units are now under construction around the world, including the UAE and Canada, and CURA has developed as an open-source initiative with all tech specs, drawings and design materials available online as an opportunity to encourage new testing for international design collaborations.

“We have received several messages of interest from manufacturing firms and medical suppliers in Australia, as well as people there being interested in developing the open source design,” the CURA team says.

Photo credit: Max Tomasinelli

A global collaboration

In conversation with health sector leaders at Billard Leece Partnership (BLP), Australian designers are benefiting from the online collaboration and ideas shared around the globe.

“Building on the theme of the ‘pop up hospital’, we can look at how we can adapt this theme locally to suit our situation, both now and in the future,” director, Tara Veldman, said.

Associate director, Tonya Hinde, added: “Education and transparency is key in health – being focused on preventative infection control measures rather than being reactionary, which may be too late.  “So, design solutions perhaps shouldn’t just consider the short-term reactions but be educational and ongoing. How do we design to flex up and down? How do we assist in the preventative measures?”

Director, Mark Mitchell said: “Australia is already culturally attuned to quarantine given strict rules to protect agricultural industries and ecosystems, as well as pioneering services such as the Royal Flying Doctor service overcoming the challenges of being remote from caregivers.”

Regardless of how the pandemic will unfold, it’s expected more ICUs will be needed internationally over the next few months. Solutions such as CURA will create strong opportunities for designers around the world to plan for future pandemics and help health care environments to better respond.

Article by Annie Reid

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