CURA pods to help hospitals expand ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients

The project by Italian architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota converts shipping containers to self-standing hospitals to combat the shortage of ICUs during the Coronavirus pandemic.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Mar 27, 2020

In response to the shortage of ICU spaces in hospitals dealing with the catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak, a team of designers, including Italian firm Carlo Ratti Associati, along with various engineers, medical professionals, and military experts are transforming shipping containers into plug-in intensive care pods. The project titled CURA, which stands for Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments (and ‘cure’ in Latin) has its first prototype being currently built in Milan with sponsorship from European bank, UniCredit.

Responding to the shortage of ICU space in hospitals during the current COVID-19 outbreak, the plug-in biocontainment pods can be quickly deployed in cities around the world  | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
Responding to the shortage of ICU space in hospitals during the current COVID-19 outbreak, the plug-in biocontainment pods can be quickly deployed in cities around the world Image Credit: CURApods.org

The project comes in the wake of the global crisis when hospitals in countries most affected by COVID-19 such as China, Italy, Spain, and the US are crumbling with inadequate medical infrastructure. As more and more cases of the severe respiratory disease are being detected every day, hospitals across the world are facing shortage of ventilators.

 CURA-Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments is designed to double as a self standing field hospital  | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
CURA-Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments is designed to double as a self standing field hospital Image Credit: CURApods.org

CURA, an open-source project, is being developed with the intent to quickly provide capacity building to Intensive Care Units across cities in need. The design of the pods is such that they can be placed either in the proximity of a hospital to enlarge its existing ICU capacity or as a stand-alone medical facility in remote areas affected by the pandemic.

Shipping containers converted into plug-in Intensive Care Units | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
Shipping containers converted into plug-in Intensive Care Units Image Credit: CURApods.org

“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. 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,” says the team behind CURA.

Responding to both concerns with a middle path, the 20-feet long pod allows for flexible and fast mounting (as quick as that of a tent), whereas the application of biocontainment using an extractor to create negative pressure makes the pod environment as safe as an isolated ward.

An inflatable structure connecting individual pods to cater to large requirements of ICU spaces  | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
An inflatable structure connecting individual pods to cater to large requirements of ICU spaces Image Credit: CURApods.org

CURA comes with an inflatable tube-like structure that caters to large-scale requirement of ICUs. When connected to the individual pods, the structure turns into a corridor and helps create multiple modular configurations, resulting between four to 40 beds.

Each individual pod is designed to accommodate two patients at a time. Large glazed windows puncture both the longitudinal sides of the cuboidal pods that allow visual transparency of the treatment. The interiors of the pods will be well-equipped with all medical facilities including ventilators and intravenous fluids that are required to treat severe cases of COVID-19.

An axonometric view showing interiors of the CURA pod | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
The interiors of the CURA pod showing a fully equipped facility to treat COVID-19 intensive care patientsImage Credit: CURApods.org

One of the factors that help gauge the feasibility of the pods is its movement across sites. Here, the use of shipping containers come into picture where these can not only be easily transported but can also be reconfigured to adapt to the needs and capacity of local healthcare infrastructure.

  • Layout Plan  | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
    Layout Plan Image Credit: CURApods.org
  • Section | CURA | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
    Section Image Credit: CURApods.org

The design and innovation of CURA is led by Carlo Ratti Associati along with Italian architect Italo Rota. The project is being developed in an open-source, non-for-profit framework with the support of the World Economic Forum: COVID-19 Action Platform that aims to catalyse private-sector support to help end the global emergency as soon as possible.

Project Details

Name of project: CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments)
Design and innovation: CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota
Medical engineering: Humanitas Research Hospital
Medical consultancy: Policlinico di Milano
Master planning, design, construction, logistics support services: Jacobs, Alberto Riva
Visual identity & graphic design: studio FM milano
Digital media: Squint/opera
Logistics: Alex Neame, Team Rubicon UK
MEP engineering: Ivan Pavanello of Projema
Medical consultancy: Dr. Maurizio Lanfranco of Ospedale Cottolengo

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