Ready to sail to emergency: Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners

The UK-based firm has transformed modular shipping containers to be retrofitted as floating hospitals that can be deployed to treat coronavirus patients across countries.

by Jincy Iype Published on : May 01, 2020

UK based Weston Williamson + Partners have formulated a design proposal to convert ship containers into floating hospitals that can sail to areas affected by the pandemic and in need of emergency assistance. “The idea came to us because we work around the world and wanted to try to encourage a global response,” shares Chris Williamson, partner, Weston Williamson + Partners.

He argues that not every country is adept enough to retrofit exhibition centres or arenas into COVID-19 treatment facilities, as done in Manchester or London in the United Kingdom. “The speed at which Excel in London and GMex in Manchester have been repurposed suggest that the idea is possible, and the container module is ideal for an intensive care units, beds and medical equipment for the benefit of emerging economies,” says Williamson.

COVID–19 hospital ship design proposal by Weston Williamson + Partners | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
COVID–19 hospital ship design proposal by Weston Williamson + Partners Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

Transforming container ships (which are not in service currently due to a halt in global trade) into hospitals, stocked with medical equipment, provides more spaces to treat patients, not to mention added privacy. This also helps boost access to medical care, as the ships can be deployed to different areas. "The great thing about containers is that they are almost the perfect size for a single intensive care bed and it gives privacy, comfort, daylight and ventilation," says Williamson. He believes that humans can overcome any obstacle and that these hospital ships could be in operation soon - “all we need is the political will to make this work and we are working with a few influential people toward that aim".

The hospital ship can sail to pandemic affected areas, which are in need of medical assistance | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
The hospital ship can sail to pandemic affected areas, which are in need of medical assistance Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

“It is no surprise that the densest cities in the world are the worst affected. In the past month, New York has surged ahead and the reasons are understandable. The virus isn’t in the air. It is on elevator buttons, door handles, metro straps, bus rails. People in New York live closer together than in LA, they live and travel differently. Faster spread seems inevitable in denser spaces. When it reaches Africa, India and the refugee camps, where social distancing is a luxury and access to running water and hygiene is more difficult, the scenes on our televisions will be horrendous. We need to act now even though we have priorities at home, to prevent devastation abroad. The world has been shown to be incredibly small and we need to step up to help the emerging countries,” Williamson adds.

Each container can host one ICU and a bed, which equals 2,000 beds and ICU’s per ship | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
Each container can host one ICU and a bed, which equals 2,000 beds and ICUs per ship Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

Weston Williamson + Partners conceptualised the hospital wards with direction from UK based engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald. A single container can house one Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and one bed, which equals 2,000 beds and ICUs per ship, along with areas designated for medical supplies and nursing stations. These modular and robust shipping containers will be stacked six high, a manageable number according to the firm, in case patients need to be moved around. If the containers are stacked any higher, it would result in super dense blocks, which won’t feel comfortable. "It is important that there is a sense of wellbeing, with good light and airflow," explains Williamson.

Weston Williamson + Partners ascertained from shipping companies that there is an available capacity of around 1,000 ships with around 3,500 containers per vessel. Imagine how many containers could be converted to hospital wards, and help aid patients and affected cities!

These modular shipping containers are proposed to be stacked six high, to ensure comfort | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
These modular shipping containers are proposed to be stacked six high, to ensure comfort Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

In addition to back up generators that will be placed within each 20-block unit, the ICUs are planned to be powered by the ship’s power supply. Bridge decks on the ship will act as circulation spaces, along with goods lifts that are placed at intervals of 20 units. The shipping containers are adapted by removing one of their steel doors and riveting a perspex panel in its place. The perspex (solid, transparent plastic, like Plexiglass) also has a hit and miss panel that allows natural ventilation and has a built-in air-conditioning unit. Patients are not intended to stay on the ship, except in conditions where there is no place to deploy the containers.

Spaces inside one container, as conceptualised by Weston Williamson + Partners | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
Spaces inside one container, as conceptualised by Weston Williamson + Partners Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

Asked what sort of lifestyle changes we must make after the pandemic, Williamson reasons, “Having been a vegetarian for 35 years, I feel angry that these pandemics seem to start from the way meat has to be farmed to feed a largely carnivorous world. That is perhaps one of the first things we should try to change for our health and also the health of the planet. We will need to repay our young people for the sacrifices they are making to protect the old and treat their concerns about climate change with more urgency. We should surely see that these issues are not unrelated. Taxes will undoubtedly increase to pay for the economic upheaval caused by COVID-19 and much of this money needs to go towards a zero carbon programme.”

A sketch of how the container ship hospitals can be deployed and made use of | Container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners | STIRworld
A sketch of how the container ship hospitals can be deployed and made use of Image Credit: Courtesy of Weston Williamson + Partners

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to consider how we live, what and how much we consume, and how to practise prudence and resilience. The design and architecture industries have been readily creating adaptive reuse concepts and solution-based design proposals such as container ship hospitals by Weston Williamson + Partners and Pura-Case, a wardrobe purifier by Carlo Ratto Associati, to help the situation.

Click here for more coronavirus-related news and information.

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