A 'CURA' for COVID-19

John Hill
25. maart 2020
Image courtesy of CURA/ CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota

Italian architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota have designed CURA, an open-source design that uses repurposed shipping containers to create plug-in intensive care units at hospitals faced with shortages of ICU space from the spread of the novel coronavirus.

CURA, which stands for Connected Unit for Respiratory Ailments, answers one question architects may have in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: What can architects, whose designs take years to realize, contribute when the increasing coronavirus cases and deaths call for immediate solutions? The use of readily available shipping containers — a favorite canvas for architects for everything from houses and stores to sales centers and other uses, both permanent and temporary — addresses the urgency of the problem, while the design of CURA uses negative pressure for safe biocontainment.

Image courtesy of CURA/ CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota

A press release for CURA argues that shipping containers are preferable to tents and prefabricated buildings, two approaches that have been used to expand ICUs during the pandemic. A tent, they contend, "exposes medical professionals to a higher risk of contamination and adds operational strain," while prefab wards are "time and resource-intensive" — at least outside of China. Furthermore, the small footprint of the shipping containers means they can be inserted into a myriad of site conditions, though they are ideal for the parking lots that surround many hospitals.

Image courtesy of CURA/ CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota

Yet what about the containers themselves? Looking at the CURA design as described in a technical report (PDF link), each 20-foot container (6m long, 2.4m wide, 2.6m tall) would contain two beds and a crash cart. Access to a unit would be on one of the short ends, while the opposite end would house the air handling unit; in between, dropped from the ceiling, would be two supply units with respirators, lighting, and other equipment. Window on the longs sides would introduce natural light and allow views across containers. Circulation between the modules would happen in corridors formed by inflatable walls and roofs with raised flooring.

Image courtesy of CURA/ CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota

The first prototype of CURA is currently being built in Milan, Italy, with the sponsorship of European bank UniCredit.

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