Boston- and Kigali, Rwanda–based MASS Design Group has announced a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that includes creating open-source resources for designers "to employ in adapting our domestic, commercial, residential, and public spaces into spaces that will keep us safe," according to the firm's website.
MASS is no stranger to designing for infection control: Its first project was the design of the Butaro District Hospital in Butaro, Rwanda, which was designed to provide health care to nearly 350,000 people that had been going without, in a country that had been ravaged by years of genocide and resultant health care crises, including epidemics of infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. The District Hospital, which was completed in 2011, was designed, according to the firm, "to mitigate and reduce the transmission of airborne disease through various systems, including overall layout, patient and staff flows, and natural cross-ventilation." The firm later went on to design facilities for the Butaro Cancer Center; the GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital and Cholera Treatment Centers in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (2015); and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless (2016); among others, as well as helping governments develop design standards to minimize infection, such as its work with the ministry of health of Liberia to develop health care design standards for post-Ebola recovery.
"In the last 10 years, we have spent time working in the middle of three different epidemics, and have developed a practice in response to the consideration of how buildings might respond as well as protect against future epidemics," says Michael Murphy, co-founding principal of MASS. "In each case—cholera, tuberculosis, and Ebola—I think it has taught us to think more deeply about the way in which buildings and the built environment must be constantly adaptive, designed purposefully for its context, and consider the long term-implications on the health of the people it serves."
The current global pandemic is increasing a focus on infection control outside of health care environments, and the first resource MASS has made available as part of its response is a list of best practices for designing spaces for infection control, which has already been posted on the site. The best practices include: "Design for social distance, not isolation; Rethink material selection and treatment of surfaces; Make your spaces breathe better; Temporary shelters are never temporary; and Design for people, not just against pathogens." These topic areas address everything from improving ventilation in existing spaces to thinking about materials selection in projects going forward—especially given the changing nature of infectious diseases. More tools and resources will follow in the coming weeks, and the firm is also soliciting questions and design solutions through an email form on its website.
"We just want to be a resource for people to reach out to and connect," Murphy says. "There are spatial decisions that are being made today that will have long-term implications a year from now. If the spatial disciplines are at the table, we can help in the decision-making process as we respond in the coming weeks. There's an incredible amount of need for designers and architects to be of service."
To learn more, and to download this resource and more as they become available, visit massdesigngroup.org/covidresponse.