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Temporary hospital is built from wood blocks held together with metal velcro

  • May 26, 2020

Tye Farrow mixes up his wood and hospital design skills and adds a zipper.

Kate Wagner writes a cruel but hilarious post on her McMansion Hell website titled Coronagrifting: A Design Phenomenon where she complained about “cheap mockups of COVID-related design “solutions” filling the endlessly scrollable feeds of PR-beholden design websites.” She also coins a great neologism that will outlive this virus: PR-chitecture, or “architecture and design content that has been dreamed up from scratch to look good on instagram feeds or, more simply, for clicks.”

I thought of this while I was reviewing a couple of designs from architects and industrial designers I have admired for years, and agree that some of the examples Wagner shows are ridiculous. But most of the ones we have shown are from reputable industrial designers like Mark Sanders with his DIY mask made out of a pop bottle, or instant hospitals from Broad Sustainable Buildings, a company that has been building instant buildings for a decade.

Credit Valley Hospital LobbyCredit Valley Hospital Lobby/ Ian Mutto on Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Another example of designers using their expertise appropriately is a proposal from Tye Farrow of Farrow Partners. Tye has been working in health care for years, doing huge hospital projects, most notably the Credit Valley Hospital, (shown above) with its incredible lobby made of wooden “trees.” Tye knows this kind of design.

Grip Metal © Grip Metal

Farrow Partners have also been working with Grip Metal, a sort of metal Velcro developed by Nucap Technologies, which was developed for the auto industry to hold brake pads together, but works well for any material that is softer than the base metal used, first seen on TreeHugger in the Steam Canoe winter station from OCAD university.

Farrow CLB building system© Farrow CLB building system/ Farrow Partners

Newcap and Farrow have been working together on a system where they press scraps of wood (like from shipping pallets) into blocks about the size of concrete masonry units, and then squeeze them together with Grip Metal as the velcro-like glue.

Grip metal box© Grip metal box via Farrow Partners

They call it “the Grip Timber Cross Laminated Block (GTCLB).” it is built up with internal cavities for integrating electrical and mechanical systems. Farrow explains in a Daniels School press release:

“Right now, if you build a building, approximately 80 percent of the cost of the building is labour,” Farrow says. “With these wooden bricks, the skilled labour cost is brought down significantly. I could stack the walls myself. You can build something rapidly that’s as strong as it would be if you were using concrete blocks, and it has the feel of a permanent building.”

Plan of hospital building© Farrow Partners

Since they go up so quickly and easily, Farrow came up with a design for a quick-assembly hospital for COVID-19 care, called the “Solace Rapid Assembly High Performance Covid-19 Inpatient Bed Solution.” Farrow explains:

The Solace team observed that the rapid assembly Covid-19 hospital building solutions constructed to date globally – the UK ‘Nightingale hospitals’ constructed out of exhibition hall centre partition wall cubicles; the New York tented enclosed battle frontline field hospitals in Central Park; or Italian shipping contain adapted inpatient room solutions – while good initial reactions to the problem at hand, naturally left room for reflection, lessons learned and improvements towards the goal of achieving solutions which are “faster, cheaper, smarter, safer, more adaptable and importantly healthier – which cause health”- versus working against those that were doing the caring and healing.

Farrow has always been a promoter of biophilia and how buildings can help heal, an interior that “causes health.” no shipping containers or trailers here:

“Sitting in a black box is really bad for your health,” Farrow says. “There are studies that show if you take a patient that has had heart surgery, and you put them in an inpatient room that has a view of the sky, they heal faster, they use less medicine, they have better outcomes, and they have shorter stays in the hospital.”

ICU room looking from bed© ICU room looking from bed/ Farrow Partners

Patient rooms are 12 by 14 feet, which is enough that medical workers can move freely around a bed. Patients face into the middle so that they can see the staff and vice versa, so there is a carefully designed clerestory window that lets them catch a view of the sky.

unit layout of larger installation© Unit layout of larger installation/ Farrow Partners

In the larger complexes, there is a ” logistics corridor that houses all mechanical, electrical and medical gases, the equivalent to a ‘vertical interstitial space’, allowing building plant staff to access and modify systems in the space without any interaction with the patient areas within the unit.” Since the light is coming in from the clerestory skylights, the building can pack rooms in at pretty high density without a lot of exterior wall. ” Fresh air is fed from the public corridor side through HEPA filtration and exhausted in the logistics interstitial corridor, creating the negative pressure requirements to contain the airborne spread of the virus.”

center area of ICU© Farrow Partners

There are a lot of advantages to this kind of system. Wood is a relatively good insulator and sound absorber, so it should be a comfortable space. When the crisis is over and the building is not needed for this purpose, the Grip Metal bricks can be pried apart like Lego and reassembled into another building of any kind. And they can be made into anything. according to Farrow in the Grip Metal press release,

“Interestingly the uptake isn’t only for the ICUs,” he says, “but in also helping solve some of the long-term-care home challenges.” The building block technology could also help provide affordable housing both in the city and in northern communities. “Northern First Nations communities that have a sawmill can now produce their own block, by simply buying the grip strips and having a press, and their communities can build their own homes.” He cites other ways that the block can help in rapidly deployable architecture: for instance, laneway houses that could be accessory dwelling units for elderly parents or children moving back home.

Work station© Farrow Partners

So this raises the question: is every proposal that comes out in a pile of press releases, with no specific site or client, just Kate Wagner’s PR-chitecture? Or is this an example of how every crisis is an opportunity, to demonstrate new ways of doing things better? Perhaps it depends who is doing the proposing. Tye knows his health care, having “initiated a global “Cause Health” movement aimed at raising expectations for design as the basis for total health, which extends beyond environmental sustainability and physical health to encompass our mind health.”

Besides running Farrow Partners, in his spare time Tye is in the process of obtaining a Master of Neuroscience applied to Architecture and Design degree from the University IUAV of Venice (Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia), one of fifteen people from around the globe accepted into the program. He anticipates obtaining the degree in September 2020.

Tye Farrow knows hospitals and he knows wood. This is the real thing.

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