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Young Architects Design against Ebola

Monday, September 29, 2014

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Could innovative architecture help slow the spread of the deadly Ebola virus?

Yes, say students at Texas A&M's Master of Architecture program, who have developed a series of designs for portable, rapidly deployable treatment clinics for Ebola patients.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M Master of Architecture students (from left) Celso Rojas, Soheil Hamideh and Tian Wang work on a model of their clinic.

More than 2,900 people, including hundreds of health-care workers, have died in the Ebola epidemic out of about 6,200 cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the actual number may be much higher.

With each infected person infecting approximately two others, a global effort is afoot to rein in the contagion rate.

That's where the A&M architects and their portable isolation units come in.

Making it Work

The goal was to develop modular isolation units that could be dismantled and stored at strategic locations near transportation hubs for rapid deployment and assembly in crisis areas, according to an A&M project announcement.

The requirements were challenging. The modules had to fit in shipping containers and airplane cargo holds, be light enough to be transported by helicopter, and assemble easily on site with minimal tools.

The designs also had to work with the region's climate extremes. They had to be cleanable and inexpensive enough for mass production.

JungminKim GauriNadkarni Celso Rojas

Texas A&M graduate students in architecture designed portable isolation units for the treatment of Ebola patients. The group included (from left) Jungmin Kim, Gauri Nadkarni and Celso Rojas.

“The current pandemic in western Africa underscores the need for these inexpensive, easily erected modular facilities where patients inflicted with the Ebola virus or other infectious diseases can be treated while isolated from the general population,” said George J. Mann, holder of A&M's Skaggs Professorship in Health Facilities Design and director of the graduate architecture studio that undertook the project.

The students designed the clinics in consultation with leading health-care professionals, including a former surgeon-general of the U.S. Air Force and a retired Major General who is a specialist in global disease surveillance.

The designs were unveiled in a campus presentation Wednesday (Sept. 24).

Expandable Model

Students met the challenge with climate-responsive designs that attend to military transport constraints, geographical and contagion factors, sanitation demands, energy needs and medical protocols. The designs also needed to accommodate flexible deployment and staging, adaptable to local needs.

Gauri Nadkarni

Aluminum legs keep Gauri Nadkarni's units away from the contamination and instability of the marshy ground.

One student, for example, used an accordion concept in which modules could be expanded for use and then compressed for transport. Another design was held together with Velcro fasteners strengthened by straps.

Gauri Nadkarni's expandable modular design features a double shell to protect from exposure to direct sunlight and to reduce infection; a pitched aluminum roof that shunts off heavy rainfall; solar panels; and legs that protect the structure from the region's marshy lands.

Nadkarni's full design is available here, here and here.

Treatment Village

Celso Rojas developed a series of modules that can be configured on site as a treatment complex—with, for example, isolation units, a morgue and staff quarters. The sturdy, low-cost module walls are comprised of four layers: aluminum sheathing, a structural insulated panel, oriented strand board and poly sheathing.

Rojas model
Celso Rojas

A site plan (bottom) shows one possible configuration for Celso Rojas's expandable modules.

Rojas says his design, available here, is easy to build, affordable, durable and secure.

A Different Angle

Jungmin Kim's design, shown here, eschews the conventional rectangular module for a triangular design. Kim says the model, called Triad, allows for more modules in less space, minimizes building materials, requires no assembly, and has no ceiling, eliminating roof issues.

Kim model
Jungmin Kim

Jungmin Kim's self-contained Triad design requires no assembly and has no ceiling.

The modules can be deployed individually or flipped to fit snugly with adjoining units. The self-contained structure is suitable for any location, weather or culture, according to Kim.

Health-care professionals advising the students included former U.S. Air Force Surgeon-General P.K. Carlton Jr.; Dr. Eric Wilke, health authority for the Brazos County Health Department; Mike Paulas, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the BCHD; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Annette Sobel, a specialist in global disease surveillance.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Building design; Color + Design; Commercial Buildings; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health Care/Hospitals; North America

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