Things right now are undoubtedly, brutally rough. And when the going gets rough, the architecture and design community gets 3D printing.
As part of a sweeping grassroots mobilization effort that expands and evolves daily, architects, designers, makers, and a small army of displaced students have banded together and fired up their 3D printers to produce the personal protective equipment (PPE) so desperately needed in hospitals that are struggling to provide necessary gear to the doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since putting out an open call week, Huang has brought together an initial network north of 80 people-largely USC faculty, alumni, and friends-working with 100 3D printers and three laser cutters. Students from other Los Angeles area schools including SCI-arc and Santa Monica College have also joined the local effort as have firms including KAA Associates, ARUP, CO Architects, Michael Maltzan Architects, RCH Studios, and Brooks Scarpa. The gearproduced by the Huang-launched campaign is being distributed to, via coordinated pickups arranged by USC’s Keck Medicine, to LAC+ USC Medical Center, Keck Hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and MLK Willowbrook Hospital.
Architect Alvin Huang just figured he’d give it a try. The Synthesis Design + Architecture founder and USC School of Architecture professor had been impressed by what Jenny Sabin’s #OperationPPE at Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning had already accomplished. So this past Sunday, Huang created a Google spreadsheet to gauge interest among his USC colleagues and students in marshaling 3D-printing resources to make emergency backup personal protective equipment. Huang was uniquely well positioned to do so: His wife works at USC Medical Center and heard about pseudo-N95-mask production that was taking place internally at Keck Medicine of USC, using available 3D printers. So Huang made sure to connect with other entities within the university, notably Keck, Viterbi School of Engineering, and the USC Iovine and Young Academy.
The next day Huang sent the document, which contains open-source files for 3d-printing a protective face shield and a pseudo-N95 mask that have both been tested and approved by Keck, to a handful of architecture and design firms. Not long after, the City of Los Angeles’ chief design officer Christopher Hawthorne contacted Huang, and by Wednesday afternoon Mayor Eric Garcetti incorporated the undertaking into his public address about the wider # LAProtects campaign. When Huang spoke with AD PRO from his home studio on Thursday afternoon, the architect shared that the efforts already encompassed 134 people. The aforementioned Google spreadsheet, a dedicated Slack channel, and a recent Zoom meeting have all helped build momentum.
The AIA California and AIA Los Angeles chapters, as well as students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, have also become partners. L.A. -area architecture, design, and engineering firms involved include KAA Design Group, Michael Maltzan Architecture, Arup, CO Architects, HOK, Tighe Architecture, HGA, Brooks + Scarpa, RCH Studios, and Gruen Associates.
“Everybody’s printers are going around the clock now,” Huang notes, since each piece takes a minimum of three hours to make. “We’re a network of muscle that extends as far south as San Diego, and as far north as Seattle.” And yet, there are specific limits and parameters.
“This is what we call wartime medicine. The ideal situation is that our gear never gets touched,” he clarified. “It’s not to replace the actual face shields and N95 masks that are true medical grade,” since air can potentially flow through microscopic cavities with the printed materials.
Huang also emphatically explained that the project is not about creativity and ingenuity. “With designers, the natural inclination is the second they receive something they say, ‘I can make it better.”‘ Instead, it’s about production. What’s been dubbed USC Architecture Operation PPE is also associated with the national #OperationPPE campaign, which Huang points out is “part of a larger movement.” USC Architecture Operation PPE is directly coordinating with four L.A.-area hospitals, but “obviously, we don’t care where they go,” Huang says-as long as the equipment ends up in the right hands. “These are for the medical professionals because if they’re not safe, we’re not safe.”
The CDC is recommending that all Americans should wear cloth masks or other face coverings if they go out in public – amid new concerns that infected people with no symptoms can still spread C0VID-19.
With a shortage of masks at stores and hospitals, that may involve making them at home. DnA talks to Angelenos who are participating in a community wide effort to make masks for medical staff and for personal use, using tools that range from digital to analog, from software and a 30 printer to fabric and a sewing machine.
The famed architect Bjarke Ingels announced last weekend that he has turned over his firm’s 30 printing workshop to making face shields for New York doctors. So have engineers, architects and researchers at Princeton and Cornell.
In LA, USC’s architecture school is leading an effort involving around 100 Southland designers and architects, including Brooks Scarpa, Michael Maltzan, Jennifer Siegal, RCH Studios and many others. They have partnered with Mayor Eric Garcetti in his “L.A. Protects” initiative.
They have taken their home-studio 30 printers and begun printing face shields and what Alvin Huang, USC graduate director of architecture, calls “pseudo N-95” face masks. He says these will serve as back-ups for medical staff.
Huang, also principal of his own firm Synthesis Design+ Architecture, explains the goal of this collective campaign, the challenge of navigating 6,000 open source files to find the perfect protective face shield (they chose a 30 shield by Budman), and getting the process to speed up from an eighthour print down to around three.
It is all worth it, he says, when he hears the alternative for a doctor might be a “bandana.”
There’s another challenge facing him and other architects: Completing this project while maintaining their business amid instability for the building industry.
“The one blessing in all of this, because of the social distancing, is that I can literally do all of those roles, including being a parent and a husband, from one room,” says Huang.
That’s the digital approach. Meanwhile, an army of sewers, from fashion designers to hobbyists, are also making masks. Crafting groups have gathered online, including 100 Million Mask Challenge, Stitched Together, Masks for Heros and Masks for Humanity (from the founders of the Pussyhat Project).
DnA talks to Danette Riddle, a marketing lead at the design and engineering firm AECOM. She makes masks at night, again as back-up for caregivers, and has already made around 80. She explains how to make a face mask, even if you have no sewing skills or materials. It turns out you can simply cut off T-shirt sleeves and, barn, you have a mask.
She also talks about how certain basic materials – like interfacing and elastic- have become “precious commodities,” while time seems endless. “Most people right now are having some difficulty sleeping,” Riddle tells DnA. “Most of my friends are. And so I’m sewing. I wake up around 3:30 a.m. And I will sew before my day job starts. And then also at night again. And then as much as possible on the weekends… But it feels good to try to do something to help everyone.”
Industry manufacturers are pivoting their production facilities to make medical supplies. They deserve a standing ovation-not only for their donations, but also for the employees who have committed to helping their communities.
The design collective RCH Studios is mobilizing its resources to begin 3-D printing face shields for hospital workers-its team is currently producing between 80 and 100 units weekly.
In Los Angeles, RCH Studios, the firm behind many of LA’.s public spaces like the Music Center Plaza and Grand Park, are spearheading an initiative with other local architecture firms, including USC’s Architecture School to use their model shops and 3-D printers to create face shields and personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals in Los Angeles. Additionally, they have made the designs public so that others can help. Other firms such as Bjarke Ingels Group in New York and Howeler + Yoon in Boston are also 3-D printing face shields to distribute locally.
RCH Studios Creative Director Andy Lantz, who’s designed Dropbox’s new office building, as well VRBO’s new workplace, says companies will need to integrate workplace changes in ways that reflect living in a postCOVID world. “When a situation feels temporary, it feeds fatigue because everyone remains in a holding pattern. That energy should be used to develop new patterns and rituals,” he says. “The challenge is to integrate design thinking, albeit measured and smart, that aren’t temporary measures. Make it real.” hospitals in Los Angeles. Additionally, they have made the designs public so that others can help. Other firms such as Bjarke Ingels Group in New York and Howeler + Yoon in Boston are also 3-D printing face shields to distribute locally.