In response to the critical shortage of ICU beds amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit design/build collective CURA has proposed an innovative solution: repurposing shipping containers into rapidly deployable ICU pods.
Backed by the World Economic Forum with funding from UniCredit bank, CURA—Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments—is the brainchild of an international nonprofit task force spearheaded by Italian architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati with architect Italo Rota, and includes experts from engineering, medical, design, and military backgrounds.
"The response to the emergency in China and Italy so far has been to set up makeshift emergency hospitals such as tents, or build new prefabricated wards with biocontainment," explains the CURA team, who have already begun working on their first prototype for a hospital in Milan. "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, [wherein] an extractor creates indoor negative pressure, complying with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIRs)."
At the heart of CURA’s plan is the shipping container, a ubiquitous reusable structure that’s both adaptable and easy to transport. Retrofitted in a controlled factory environment, each CURA container pod would be made autonomous by containing all the medical equipment needed for two COVID-19 intensive-care patients. With the containers’ standard dimensions and structural integrity intact, the units could be easily transported with existing ship, rail, and truck infrastructure to hospitals around the globe.
The modular nature of CURA also allows hospitals to expand ICU capacity as needed. Individual two-bed pods can be joined together with inflatable structures to create multiple configurations that the team says can be deployed "anywhere…in just a few hours." The multi-pod arrangements can be used as annexes to hospitals in parking bays or as an expandable pop-up hospital.
"The objective of CURA is to improve the efficiency of existing solutions in the design of field hospitals, tailoring them to the current pandemic," notes the team. "The project provides ICU for patients with COVID-19 in compact, reversible, and reusable hospital pods. It aims to facilitate the work of medical staff and avoid cross infection and hospital bottleneck."
Designed under an open-source, nonprofit framework, CURA is an evolving project open to connecting with new collaborators. Interested individuals and organizations can contact the team on their website curapods.org.
Get the Pro Newsletter
What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.