3 Architecture Firms Proposing New COVID Testing Units

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Robison Wells
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Despite all the re-openings of the economy and the lifted restrictions, COVID is still with us, and testing continues to speed up, not slow down. But testing is in so much demand, especially in hard hit states like Arizona and Texas, where lines for drive-thru testing can be hours long, that many are looking for alternative testing sites.

Three architecture firms made proposals to the government about constructing mobile testing units that can be easily transported, but also secure and climate-controlled. This need for accessible, easy-to-build, and quick-to-deploy testing solutions is especially needed in urban areas where coronavirus testing might be harder to come by.

The three firms who proposed ideas were Perkins and Will, Grimshaw, and HOK.

Perkins and Will, working together with Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Arup Group came up with an unusual proposal to convert old school busses into testing centers. “While no one is immune to the COVID-19 virus, testing and treatment is not a level playing field. It is the under-served communities, including lower-income and homeless populations, that need our urgent help at this time,” said Mariana Giraldo, architect and strategic planning specialist in Perkins and Will’s New York studio.

“We wanted to harness the expertise of our interdisciplinary team to help those in need during the crisis. We believe the mobile testing lab is a scalable and accessible solution to close the gap on testing in our home, New York City, and across the world.” The school bus design was designed to fit seven parameters: equitability, mobility, accessibility, speed, flexibility, ease of implementation, and scalability.

HOK created a biosafety lab called Germfree, which is a rapidly-deployable testing lab geared for active or suspected infections at large institutions—college campuses, corporate office parks, large-scale manufacturing facilities, governmental compounds, and the like—where speed and volume are top concerns.

“Comprised of two Germfree modules, the labs accommodate up to nine staff workers as well as one or two high-throughput diagnostic machines capable of testing 80 samples at a time, resulting in up to 1,120 tests per day. One module is dedicated to sample collection and the second to testing. The modules feature rounded window frames and door openings, which contributes to a modern and inviting appearance. Considering the needs of those visiting the lab, HOK designed special ‘flaps’ that cover the various doors while the module is in transit and also open to create a ‘porch’ that provides protection from sun or rain. Patterned film covers some windows, providing privacy for visitors during sample collection and other procedures. HOK’s design ensures the efficiency of each unit while putting science on display via views into the testing area. Exterior graphics can educate visitors about the testing process, provide information about the virus and the sponsoring institution.”

Finally, Grimshaw worked with SG Blocks and Osang Healthcare to convert shipping containers into modular units which will be especially useful because of their versatility and adaptability, and being easy to assemble, deploy and relocate.

Like with other shipping container-based solutions, there’s the potential to create multi-unit configurations that, in addition to testing services, would include on-site laboratories or even full-service medical clinics.

“Grimshaw recognizes the important role that a rapidly deployable solution has in opening up greater access to testing that people can trust and rely on,” said Grimshaw chairman Andrew Whalley. “We have always aimed to deliver progressive architecture that strives for a better future, and we believe this suite of highly adaptable, efficient building solutions developed by our Industrial Design team will provide greater opportunities for the critical role testing, and people’s trust in testing sites, will play as we move forward.”

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