The COVID-19 pandemic brought to our world unprecedented change and disruption. Very few could have imagined how drastically this global health crisis would change not only our social and economic landscape, but every corner of our daily lives. A year after the initial wave of the virus, individuals and communities alike are still suffering heavily from this pandemic, despite widespread mitigation measures from face masks and social distancing to total shutdowns and stay-at-home mandates. Even the vaccine rollout has been plagued by challenges, including widespread misinformation, technological failings, and supply shortages –– not to mention, new strains of the virus that may render current offerings ineffective. How did we get here, and how can we prevent it in the future? Instead of relying on a defensive response in the fight against pandemics, what if there was an alternative offensive strategy? What if there was a built solution that could be implemented to stem future outbreaks of a similar virus? After all, there are many gaps in our national and global healthcare infrastructure, which only confounds the fight against disease and hastens its spread.
HLW's Project Héroe offers one such solution, proposing a rapidly deployable healthcare kit-of-parts that can be mobilized wherever it is needed, at whatever scale required, in equitable service to all those in need. Brought together in summer 2020 by an interdisciplinary task force composed of The USC School of Architecture, in collaboration with alumnus David Swartz of architecture firm HLW, and the Keck School of Medicine, Project Héroe considers technical engineering and real-world feasibility in an unprecedented way to bring global healthcare into the 21st Century and protect the future of city life as we know it –– pushing the boundaries of what's possible in terms of sustainability, resilience, and wellbeing at both the human and the community level.
Over the course of just a few months, the Project Héroe team designed an architectural “kit-of-parts” consisting of interconnected, prefab structures that can be quickly mobilized and assembled anywhere in the world, regardless of geography or other spatial constraints. Once assembled, the modules form a fully functioning hospital (with supplemental housing and support infrastructure) that can either supplement existing healthcare infrastructure or operate independently where critical healthcare gaps exist. As part of the effort, the team also devised a global system for distributing these modules and making them ready for rapid transport. Each module is based on the dimensions and handling attributes of a shipping container, which means it can be integrated within the existing global network of multi-modal transportation infrastructure.
The ease of transport and ease of assembly of this system means that critical healthcare infrastructure can be made fully operational in as little as a week at the “ground zero” site of a pandemic outbreak.
Project Héroe represents a departure from other modular healthcare precedents because it was conceived at a scale bigger than any existing typology. From a design perspective, the Project Héroe team thought big and developed a system that could be implemented anywhere in the world while working within the medical and other technical constraints of doing so.
Project Héroe engaged a multi-disciplinary team of architects, medical professionals, engineers, and other specialty consultants to advise on the design of this system so that it would meet the needs of healthcare providers, the needs of patients and their families, and the technical demands of a resilient and self-contained facility.
The project was conceived and organized by David Swartz, FAIA IIDA – a Senior Partner with HLW’s Santa Monica office. It was supported by a team of over 15 designers and technical staff from across HLW’s global network of offices. HLW and the various consulting partners collectively raised money to fund a team composed of four recent graduates and two current students from the USC School of Architecture, all of whom contributed their full-time efforts to this project during its rapid timeframe. A team of medical advisors from USC’s Keck School of Medicine provided invaluable oversight on the medical aspects of the design and delivery of the project design. Ongoing studies of the policy and other technical implications of deploying Project Héroe across diverse geographies are currently underway in collaboration with the USC Spatial Sciences Institute.
HLW and USC are entering phase 2 of the initiative in order to bring the concept to reality.