It may seem strange to hold an exhibition about design solutions to health crises while the world is still in crisis. Such a survey is likely to be incomplete and lack the perspective that time and distance has gained from this recent event. But somehow Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics, which at the time the Omicron variant of Covid first appeared in the United States, at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, undermines that premise. Her immediacy and iterative spirit make the show indeed worth seeing.
The exhibition comprises three rooms in the galleries on the first floor of the museum and includes around 50 objects and architectural projects ranging from efficient diagnostic kits to imaginative ventilators to homemade face masks and innovative hospital designs.
Planning for design and cure began before the Covid-19 pandemic, explains Jeff Mansfield, director of the MASS Design Group and co-curator of the exhibition. It was intended as an overview of the history of creative breakthroughs emerging from past epidemics, such as Alvar and Aina Aalto’s groundbreaking hospital design during the Finnish tuberculosis crisis in the 1930s, or insightful data visualizations during the London cholera outbreak of 1854.
Used with permission from the Alvar Aalto Foundation
Finland’s Paimio Sanatorium: Architecture as an “instrument of healing”
Jeffrey Mansfield, MASS Design Group
Dr. Albert Freeman Africanus King suggested building a huge anti-mosquito net as high as the Washington Monument during the US malaria crisis at the end of the 19th century.
But Covid changed the museum’s plans in the process. Design and Healing has evolved from a historical overview to a showcase of promising solutions to the evolving and still developing global health crisis. “One thing the exhibition tries to reflect is the idea that we are in the middle of a huge design charette,” explains Mansfield, referring to focused problem-solving sessions traditionally convened by architects. “We have to have our hands on deck – scientists, designers, anyone who wants to come to a table – to figure out how we can make this planet safer and healthier.”
Ellen Lupton, senior contemporary design curator at Cooper-Hewitt who worked closely with Mansfield and the team at Mass Design for Design and Healing, says they “wanted to include products that have a brilliant idea behind them, even if they did were not widespread “. – still needed. “
The show also celebrates the instinct of designers to forego intellectual property rights in times of crisis. “Designers use GitHub and other platforms to share plans so they can get it to market easily,” explains Lupton. For example, the Italian engineers who figured out how to turn a snorkel mask into a respirator opened the 3D-printed valve for everyone.
Karnaphuli Industries Limited
An alternative to intubation? The Bangladeshi company Karnaphuli Industries revives the idea of the iron lung with the Shaash vacuum fan.
An open source zero waste scrubs sewing pattern developed by Danielle Elsener.
StoDistante: Social distancing graphics in Vicchio, Italy.
Italian studio Isinnova has released open source plans for the 3D printed valves for emergency ventilators.
Design for the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic
MASS director Jeff Mansfield, an architect who specializes in designing spaces for deaf populations, says working on the exhibit during the pandemic also exposed underserved populations. “The Western vision of healthcare is privileged,” he says. “But now we are seeing a wide and diverse range of experiences.” The erosion of the so-called “ideal user” taught in Human Factors courses is best illustrated by the variety of face coverings featured in the exhibit. There is a face mask for women who wear the hijab, a solution for Sikhs with turban, a clear mask for the deaf and hard of hearing populations, and an origami-inspired mask that fits different face shapes. “It really shows the plurality of our society,” he says.
Beyond physical solutions, Design and Healing also underscores how designers adapt to the mental and emotional clutter of the pandemic. Included in the show are objects like a poster thematizing the sinophobia that flared up during Covid-19, Naomi Osaka’s cotton face mask called Breonna Taylor, and a Haiti hospital that offers quiet courtyards for TB patients to recover. The curators also hired Seattle-based multimedia artist Samuel Stubblefield to compose a calming tune for the galleries to play. The glass and metal solarium at Cooper Hewitt Mansion (once the home of tycoon Andrew Carnegie) has been converted into a healing room, decorated with brightly colored pillows hand-sewn by New Delhi-based designers Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta.
Don’t Let Racism Go Viral poster by San Francisco-based artist Kayan Cheung-Miaw
“We often operate with a survival mindset in crisis situations,” says Mansfield. “But one of the things that we highlight in the exhibition is the idea that craftsmanship and beauty are just as important in times of uncertainty.” Good design, he explains, can give people under high stress a feeling of dignity, comfort and resilience .
Design for ubiquitous epidemics
Given the opportunity to curate another exhibition related to the pandemic, Mansfield would like to highlight design solutions that are intended for entire communities such as family health centers and rural community centers. “If we were to adopt a version 2.0 of the exhibit, we would take into account the fact that the pandemic affects us from the personal level to the system level,” he explains.
© Ivan Baan
With large windows, airy courtyards, and flower-filled gardens, the GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is designed to stop the transmission of airborne diseases and provide an inspired space for healing.
“Epidemics are likely a new norm,” says Mansfield. “The question is how do we build systems that foster partnership with the community.”