Filipino architects` solutions for Covid-19 facility

May 5, 2020 | By: Arch. Joel V. Rico (as published in The Manila Times last May 5, 2020)

THE world was surprised by the widespread effect of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) towards the end of 2019 and now it has been raging across the globe as a worldwide pandemic. The increasing numbers of affected individuals and the rising death toll with no medical solutions yet on the horizon are formidable. Science and architecture collaborated to provide trailblazing design contributions for its medical and isolation facilities to safeguard the patients, health workers, and community.

Looking back in our own history, the Philippines was devastated by a cholera outbreak during the early American colonial period, which occurred in the years 1910, 1920 and 1935 and caused many deaths. In response to the growing epidemic of tuberculosis, former Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon ordered the construction of the Quezon Institute. The said hospital was dedicated to tuberculosis treatment and other contagious pulmonary ailments.

In 1982, the construction of the state-of-the-art Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) was ordered by then first lady Imelda Marcos. The facility was designed by architect Jorge Ramos and constructed by the Ministry of Public Works.

At present, the Department of Health (DoH) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) are the two of lead agencies in charge of overseeing the research and proper design layout in establishing facilities to handle Covid-19 cases.

The LCP became one of the referral hospitals for Covid-19 patients due to the very nature of the disease, which has pneumonia-like symptoms. The Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Disease (EREID) Unit is a medical structure designed to provide the utmost response to all possible viruses before and after infection, its containment, patient isolation, research laboratories, and testing, as well as proper waste disposal. All vital spaces within one structure are designed in order to regulate movement and contamination with controlled positive and negative pressures.

Several Filipino architects are into hospital design or medical facility architecture. However, there are no set design rules or parameters even from the World Health Organization (WHO) that specifically addresses Covid-19 virus behavior. But Filipino architects in the DoH, RITM, and LCP are already applying architectural, medical and engineering solutions.
Architectural solutions are now being formulated for the designs of a temporary isolation shelters or quarantine structure for persons under investigation (PUI) such as tent structures, cargo containers and re-purposed government-owned structures like unused buildings, gymnasiums, sports centers, convention centers, covered courts and even classrooms in public schools. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the different parameters and requirements or in relation to the following factors: its accessibility to the nearest rural health unit for any emergencies, especially for escalated or progressive infections; consideration on the space allocation requirement; convenience to users and spaces restriction vis-à-vis availability of the space; affordability of the shelters for construction, repair or refurbishing costs with respect to funding limitations; availability of materials to be used; durability and resistance to weather and climatic factors including force majeure; security and protection of the patients, medical equipment and health workers; availability of natural and controlled ventilation sources; adherence to health protocols and workflow to safeguard patients and health workers. Supervision of a health practitioner is also a must to oversee that health and emergency protocols are being observed diligently as well as the immediate medical consultation whenever there is any progressive Covid-19 case observed among the admitted PUIs in the quarantine facilities; provision of adequate lighting, electrical and power supply; availability of clean water and hygiene facilities; proper waste and sewage disposal; and duration or period of fabrication, establishment and repair or refurbishment.

The scale of pros and cons of the abovementioned parameters may differ. Some of these facilities may not fully address the basic requirements but could be considered as a temporary solution for the time being. These were conceptualized to augment the needs for such facilities as the fastest and easiest solutions as these quarantine facilities may help existing hospitals protect its more vulnerable patients and health personnel against the risk of contracting the disease. Minimal or no contact with PUIs means control and limiting the transmission of the virus from one carrier to another.

Filipino architects today are now being challenged to respond in an unfamiliar paradigm.

This global pandemic will definitely have a lasting effect on the whole world. There is a call to refocus our interest from being a solitary designer to multi-professional and multi-scale design collaborators in order to address a worldwide health problem in pursuit of medical and design solutions.

The world beyond the Covid-19 era will be a totally different place all together in the fields of medicine, tourism, economics, international diplomacy, politics, engineering and architecture. We are entering an unchartered era, a period of history much similar to post-cholera outbreak and World War 2. But with the enduring spirit of bayanihan, our resiliency as an architecture profession, as a Filipino and as a nation, we will endure.

The author was a past national president of the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA); chancellor, PIA College of Fellows; founding member, United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) Del Pilar Chapter; deputy executive director, UAP Sentro ng Arkitekturang Pilipino; and president, Guild of Philippine Architects in Conservation. He is an architectural historian, author, lecturer, conservation advocate and archaeologist. He is also a technical consultant for the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Education, the provincial government of Quezon, and design facility designer of the Lung Center of the Philippines. He is currently teaching architecture at the College of Saint Benilde, School of Design and Arts.


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