07 May 2020

Design addresses the emergency

Far from letting the coronavirus crisis get them down, creatives all around the world have instead immediately focused on its positive side. “Crisis” from the Greek verb krino, means to separate, to sort and, in a wider sense, to discern, to judge. It has taken on its familiar meaning through common usage, but from a glass half full perspective, it can be seen as an opportunity for reflection, assessment and discernment which, if channelled properly, can trigger improvement, even actual rebirth.

This is where the primary function of design comes into play, i.e. its functionality. Being at the service of necessities and needs. Then there have been recent examples of how design has come to the rescue of human fragility. Following the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the intervention of 2014 Pritzker Prize-winner Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who put the skills he had acquired during his studies into the structural qualities of paper and cardboard to use in the areas hardest hit by the catastrophes, coming up with low-cost, high-quality shelters for their victims.

Mater artium necessitas: this Latin proverb is more apposite than ever. Necessity has spurred many brilliant designers to pull together and pool their knowledge. There has been a short, sharp leap from design studios to manufacturers of protective visors, masks and other objects. One of the first practices to respond, Foster & Partners, has developed and shared protective visors for hospital staff: two sheets of very thin plastic laser cut in 30 seconds and assembled in less than a minute, enabling 1,000 pieces a day to be produced; the visors are also easily taken apart, cleaned, sanitised and can be reused a number of times.

From the UK to the US, where Jenny Sabin, Head of the Department of Architecture at Cornell University has galvanised the country’s architects into developing protection solutions for medical personnel. Studios like BIG (a Danish practice with offices in New York) and KPF rose immediately to the challenge, producing 3D printed face shields directly in their own studios, using a model devised by Erik Cederberg of the Swedish company 3Dverkstan (details and instructions for the three different models are available free on the company website). Each visor takes around 20 minutes to make, inserting the semi-stiff plastic sheet into the 3D-printed frame. The BIG studio has taken this model and managed to further simplify the original, thus trebling the speed of the operation. Instructions, again, are available to all on the studio website.KPF, on the other hand, has mastered the production performance of PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) as a support material that allows error-proof frames to be printed and stacked, and is also coordinating with the AIA (American Institute of Architects) on the supply of protective visors to as many New York hospitals as possible.

For spectacle-wearers, Tokujiin Yoshioka has come up with a template for an essential and minimalist mask, in perfect Japanese style, which only takes minutes to make by simply cutting a sheet of PET or PVC to the shape of the face and making two incisions where indicated for the arms of the spectacles. Seeing (the video) is believing! Lego has also modified some of the machines normally used to fabricate its famous blocks to produce visors for front-line health workers.

With doctors and health staff in mind, like his nurse wife, who are continually putting their lives on the line right now, and thinking to the long term for health procedures, Albert Rhee of CannonDesign has designed a double walk-in booth for coronavirus testing, which does away with any direct contact whatsoever. Inspired by the phone boxes used in many countries and in his birth country of South Korea in particular, Rhee has designed an easily assembled modular box that can carry out two alternating tests: while a patient is undergoing testing in one part, the other is sanitised in preparation for the next patient.

Even everyday objects are being mobilised in the fight against Covid-19 in a bid to find new behavioural solutions to interrupt the chain of contagion. Bare-handed contact is said to be one of the primary sources of infection. In a bid to avoid this, Materialise, the Belgian company in the vanguard of 3D printing, has invented two “hands-free” devices. The first consists of two pieces that can be attached to a door handle by means of two simple screws, obviating the need to touch the handle itself; the second is a 3D-printed armrest for supermarket trolleys which allows them to be steered without coming into direct touch.

The electric control plate developed by the Milanese studio PLH eliminates the proliferation of bacteria from the surface of switches and support frames in just a few hours. This is achieved thanks to the Abaco finish, a process invented by the Italian company Protim®, as part of its PVD-Physical Vapour Deposition. Treatments. It is available in three different finishe – Gun metal, Grey05 and Gold and carries Japanese Industrial Standard JIS Z 2801/A12012 certification, the most rigorous and widely-applied in the world.

Manuela Simonelli and Andrea Quaglio have developed a bacteria-proof solution for mobile phones, for the French company Lexon. The Oblio wireless charging station with built-in sanitiser looks like an elegant small vase and is capable of fully charging telephones in 20 minutes, while a UV-C LED sterilises the screen.

Faram 1957 has come up with solutions for the protection and sanitising of people and objects in public and private places that guarantee distancing and protection for workstations such as pharmacy, supermarket and bank tills. Isola, in particular is a controlled-entry glass portal that allows the user maximum personal protection in a sanitised environment, preventing the ingress of contaminants. The doors can be connected to sensors that measure body temperature and control the number of permitted presences.

TAACfatto® is a slender column over a metre and a half high that enables temperatures to be taken in just a few seconds at the entrance to shops or public places; it was devised by Marco Zorzettig e Gimmi Bodigoi, two entrepreneurs from Friuli who turned a concern for a struggling sector such as HORECA into an idea that is as original as it is brilliant. With a clutch of patents pending, TAACfatto® emits an acoustic and luminous signal when temperatures above 37.5° are registered. For ultimate safety, the PLUS model also boasts a turnstile that opens when temperatures are normal. Both models can also be connected to electric door openers in places where these are in operation, allowing clients more security simply and effectively.

For those unwilling to give up walks close to home and, especially, thinking ahead to when we may be able to go out in “semi liberty,” there are schemes like the Parc de la Distance, designed by Austria-based studio Precht, which is a maze-like park, planted with tall, 90cm-wide hedges that ensure the correct distance between people is maintained. Its many paths are arranged on a spiral-shaped plan and are all 600 metres long and there are devices indicating whether or not entry is permitted at the entrances and exits to each of them, based on visitor occupancy.

Finally, in order to bust the domestic stress caused by Coronavirus-forced home isolation, the global studio Wood Bagot has designed a modular AD-APT system that can be used to divide open-plan living spaces into areas for work, play, fitness, rest areas and so on. This series of walls and screens is a response to the new demands of being at home 24/7.

Unity is strength: a wealth of solutions – and there are and will be many more – to help us get through this unexpected reality.

#design, #Foster + Partners, #BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group, #Tokujiin Yoshioka, #PLH, #KPF, #Precht, #CannonDesign, #Woods Bagot