Fabricating Personal Protective Equipment: Architecture in a Post-Virus World

This week David and Marina are joined by Jenny Sabin, Alvin Huang, and Mitch McEwen to discuss Project PPE, Architects 3d printing and fabricating masks and other protective headgear for healthcare workers, architects helping during COVID-19 and times of crisis, methods of working, and what the pandemic means for the future profession of architecture.

Alvin Huang is the Founder of Synthesis Design + Architecture and Program Director of USC’s Graduate and Post-Professional Architecture Programs. Help Alvin with Project PPE here.

Jenny Sabin is the Founder of Jenny Sabin Studio, Sabin+Jones LabStudio with biologist Peter Lloyd Jones, and Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Dean for design initiatives in the college of architecture, art and planning at Cornell. Help Jenny with Project PPE here.

Mitch McEwen is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Princeton University, the Director of the Black Box Research Group at Princeton University and Co-Founder of A(n) Office. Help Mitch with Project PPE here and here.


How Operation PPE started for Alvin, Mitch, and Jenny (00:00)

  • The AIA came out with a message saying, ‘For all the architects at home relaxing, here are some great books to read.” And it just seemed so tone-deaf, even more tone-deaf, than usual for the AIA. I thought here’s this association that could be taking a stand, whether at the political level or just directing us and how we can take our skills, resources, and machines and put them to use. To me, the most obvious thing was the shortage of PPE. So I said, why aren’t architects 3d printing PPE? - Mitch McEwen (02:11)
  • The conversation that Mitch and I had initially, it wasn’t even about the shield project, it was about opening a dialogue that is around a really fluid situation and wanting to come to innovate and share tools and to treat the collaboration as an organic process. - Jenny Sabin (05:13)

Collaborating on a large scale and what Operation PPE means for the practice of architecture (10:24)

The success and the emotional frustrations of Operation PPE given the high need for masks and headgear (14:16)

  • Cornell Medicine estimated NYC alone would need at least 25,000 protective face shields a day and we’ve produced to date in almost a month close to 20,000. So it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s something. It is something. - Jenny Sabin (15:07)
  • I oscillate between this motivation of doing this work and pure outrage. Why am I having to do this in the first place? I'm an architect, I'm an educator, I'm an academic, I'm a father. All the things I am... none of them is a manufacturer of medical equipment, or distributor of medical equipment, or somebody who should be thinking about these things. Our States and hospitals should not be fighting each other for the same resources. - Alvin Huang (15:45)

Alvin, Mitch, and Jenny discuss the different types of headgear—Pseudo N95 Masks, Face Shields, and Face Harnesses—liabilities, and the efficacy of the masks (18:44)

The five discuss the importance of facts and science and their leadership positions in Operation PPE (26:38)

Alvin and Mitch discuss collaborators on the project as a legacy for the future (32:25)

  • I’m working with the mayor’s office on a grant to purchase 4,000 3d printers for the city of Los Angeles, to create a 3d print farm that could produce 26,000 masks a day. But also allow us to be nimble and agile enough to switch course if we suddenly need more ventilator parts or whatever. After the pandemic they’d be redistributed to LA USD schools as part of their stem curriculum with a training program we are working with MakerBot, to produce certified 3d printing instructor and 3d printing technicians if they go through this program. Which by the current counts. - Alving Huang (32:55)

Mitch discusses how the pandemic will be used for different agendas, the importance of the technical facts behind Operation PPE, and different face mask designs (35:00)

  • There will be a lot of pseudoscience and phobia of density and phobia of all the things we’ve associated with cities for some time. So I think it’s important that as we do this work we’re getting very technical so that we have the technical repertoire to push back against that. - Mitch McEwen (35:34)

What the pandemic reveals about the profession and how the profession will be changed as a result. (39:33)

Jenny, Mitch, and Alvin discuss how 3d printing in Operation PPE is the realization of a more democratic and informal creative space, a demonstration of alternative modes of collaboration and engagement with a large group of people who are outside of our architecture circles. (46:00)

The five speculate why many architects are hesitant to adopt these more open methods of collaboration. (57:21)

How the pandemic will impact cities and the people. (01:03:30)

How listeners can contribute. (01:08:54)

We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "Fabricating Personal Protective Equipment: Architecture in a Post-Virus World" 26 Apr 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/938214/fabricating-personal-protective-equipment-architecture-in-a-post-virus-world> ISSN 0719-8884

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