This exhibition, curated by MASS Design Group and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, was organized during the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic revealed what some have known for a long time: breathing is spatial. This fact has implications at the scale of the body, building, city, and planet. Everyone on Earth has been affected by the pandemic. Unequal access to housing, jobs, and health care ensured that COVID-19 hit marginalized communities harder than others.

This exhibition presents architectural case studies and historical narratives alongside creative design responses to COVID-19. Every designer, artist, doctor, engineer, or neighbor featured in the exhibition asked, “How can I help?” They used open-source collaboration, rapid-response prototyping, product hacking, and social activism to create medical devices, protective gear, infographics, political posters, architecture, and community services—all with the shared aspiration to reduce structural barriers that keep us from accessing the care we all deserve.


A selection of objects featured in the exhibition.



Red book cover with white text that reads “The Architecture of Health: Hospital Design and the Construction of Dignity.” A page from the book is also shown with architectural illustrations.       Book cover with graph paper background with black, underlined text that reads “Health Design Thinking.” A line illustration of a person is also featured with a stethoscope and red heart.


Curatorial team: MASS Design Group (Regina Chen, Jeffrey Mansfield, Michael Murphy, Morgan O’Hara and Maggie Stern). Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contemporary design, and Julie Pastor, curatorial assistant)
Exhibition designer: MASS Design Group (Annie Wang)
Graphic designers: Span (Alyssa Arnesen and Bud Rodecker) and Rick Valicenti


Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics is made possible with major support from Crystal and Chris Sacca.

Generous support is also provided by Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Cooper Hewitt Master’s Program Fund.


Side view of a pair of light-skinned hands holding a white device, with a thick, flat bottom extending into a squat tube, between the index fingers of both hands
Monitoring the Body
Many individuals and families want to monitor their own health at home and in their communities. Trips to a clinic or hospital can be inconvenient and intimidating, leading to delayed treatment. Such visits also expose people to potential infection. Telehealth accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis. Tracking population data helped public health officials respond to the...
Photo of a light-skinned woman wearing a blue and white scrub set and white sneakers.
Personal Protective Equipment
Fighting disease with masks and protective clothing is an ancient practice. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) around the world. In spring 2020, PPE was especially scarce throughout the United States in nursing homes, prisons, and care facilities for people with disabilities. Individuals came together to create face coverings for neighbors...
White paper poster advertising an art installation for social distancing using black squares in a 9 x 8 grid, each square in each row gets larger from left to right
Social Distance
The phrase “social distance” became common lingo early in the COVID-19 pandemic. To safely shop, work, or wait in line, people were advised to stay six feet (or two meters) apart. Graphic markers guided this new behavior. Solutions ranged from elaborate installations to hand-made solutions. Content from the exhibition Design and Healing: Creative Responses to...
An eye-catching poster of a cartoon-like worker holding a bin of tomatoes and the words [WORKERS FIRST] printed in bubble font repeating vertically in wavy lines filling the background.
Building Health Equity
Structural racism is a silent killer. Many conditions of daily life affect people’s health, including access to transportation, education, safe housing, nutritious food, clean air and water, and green space. Economic policies in the United States have routinely confined people of color in neighborhoods lacking these essential resources. Pandemics, from cholera in the early 1900s...
Poster which explains what Mutual Aid is and how the process works.
Mutual Aid
During the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual aid organizations around the world delivered food to neighbors in need, ran errands for housebound people, and created masks and other protective equipment. Many of these loosely organized groups relied on social media and tools like Google Docs to organize volunteers. Content from the exhibition Design and Healing: Creative Responses...
A night-time photograph of a public space with a high suspended light source which illuminates a large yellowish open circle on the paved surface below.
Light and Healing
In 1882, Robert Koch (German, 1843–1910) discovered the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. At the time, one in seven people in Europe and the United States died of tuberculosis. People living in poverty were especially vulnerable. Sunlight and fresh air were common treatments for tuberculosis until 1943, when antibiotics were proven to cure the disease. Sanatoriums,...
Paimio Sanatorium, 1929–33
To design the Paimio Sanatorium, Alvar and Aino Aalto leveraged the best science available at the time, which called for cross-ventilation and heliotherapy (exposure to sunshine) to treat and prevent tuberculosis. They considered everything from chairs and sinks to closets and beds. Sinks with angled basins were designed to minimize the sound of splashing water....
Aerial view of GHESKIO hospital, the building is shaped like a capital letter G that has slanted, ridged white roofs with a central paved courtyard split by triangular and oblong planters
GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital
Tuberculosis remains a pandemic disease today, afflicting people in every country on Earth. An outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis hit Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Patients require treatment for up to 24 months, and they remain infectious during the first few months of treatment. MASS Design Group designed the GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital in Port-au-Prince to provide...
Photograph of the Washington Monument enclosed by a white open air dome.
Nets, Screens, and Malaria
Mosquitoes have been linked with illness for thousands of years. Mosquito nets became popular around the world after 1897, when it was proven that a parasite spread by mosquitoes causes malaria. Colonial governments in West Africa were slow to adopt strategies for controlling mosquitoes, such as nets, window screens, and insecticide. Promoting the racist notion...