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Brief Published: 31 Mar 2020

Designers Create Scalable ICU Wards from Shipping Containers


Cura (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments) is an international project that converts shipping containers into intensive care units (ICUs). These ‘pods’ provide flexible overflow treatment spaces for healthcare centres or field hospitals that can respond to the health system’s fluctuating demands during the Covid-19 crisis.

The design opts for shipping containers as they can be easily transported and adapted to use. Moreover, these ready-made contained spaces can be ‘biocontained’ to create negative pressure environments that limit the spread of pathogens. This element is more difficult to achieve with other alternatives, such as tents.

Each pod is a self-sufficient unit and can operate on its own, as well as forming part of a connected system – with each pod linking together via an inflatable corridor. The modular design enables the pod system to grow and adapt responsively according to demand.

Cura is developed by a newly formed coalition of organisations, studios and individuals spanning engineering, architecture and medicine. These include renowned Italian design practice Carlo Ratti Associati, and Italian university and research facility the Humanitas Research Hospital.

The project implores different experts to work together and share knowledge, so that the concept can quickly progress and scale for use during the current pandemic. This knowledge sharing is evident in the informed design, which complies with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms and that of Covid-19 hospitals, as outlined by Chinese authorities.

The project also uses the internet to enable further collaboration – Cura is open source and available online for other parties to download, interrogate, and contribute suggestions for further tweaks. The prototype is currently under development in Italy (one of the worst-hit regions of the outbreak), and is expected to be complete in roughly three weeks’ time.