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.

Highlights

A selection of objects featured in the exhibition.

Installation

Publications

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.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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

Support

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.

 

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...
Two almost identical drawings, one on top of the other, illustrating a seated light-skinned person leisurely reading a newspaper in front of a smoking fireplace. The upper drawing depicts the person seated normally in front of the fire, the lower drawing depicts the seated person completely upside down.
Ventilation and Architecture
Although ventilation is known to prevent disease, many modern buildings are sealed environments with fixed windows or windows that are opened rarely. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the dangers of this approach. If not adequately filtered, recirculated air spreads viral particles indoors. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a public reckoning and challenged architects to rely less on...
Rendering, view from a veranda under pitched roof looking outward towards a courtyard
New Redemption Hospital
Since 2010, MASS Design Group has worked with the Liberia Ministry of Health in Africa on numerous projects. The masterplan for the New Redemption Hospital in Caldwell aims to avert future epidemics and deliver comprehensive services to a growing population. The New Redemption Hospital faces the prevailing wind to facilitate natural cross-ventilation. Solar chimneys enhance...
Gray map of London with two overlapping amorphous areas in red and blue
John Snow’s Cholera Maps
John Snow (British, 1813–1858) helped found epidemiology, the study of the distribution and causes of disease. In the 19th century, many people believed that cholera was caused by the unhealthy habits of people living in poverty. Snow’s scientific maps proved that contaminated water—not dirty air or an immoral lifestyle—caused the spread of cholera. Driven partly...
A glowing angled building with zigzagging roofline at dusk; light bleeds through perforated panels on the facade
GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Center
Cholera—a curable, preventable disease—did not exist in Haiti before the earthquake of 2010. The GHESKIO health center asked MASS Design Group to design a permanent facility to replace temporary cholera treatment tents. The Cholera Treatment Center creates its own water and sanitation infrastructure. A rainwater catchment system collects and filters water. The building can sanitize...
A medium-skinned figure lies with eyes closed on a hospital bed underneath a box-shaped negative pressure air ventilator which is opaque with rectangular transparent planes revealing the chest and side
Assisted Breathing
Most modern ventilators actively force air into the lungs. In contrast, several recent devices change the air pressure around the body to make the chest expand and contract passively. This gentler form of ventilation is more like natural breathing. These new devices are reviving the principle of the iron lung, which saved thousands of lives...
Distant exterior nighttime view of a long rectangular building that is brightly illuminated by windows of varying sizes across the full length of the building.
The Mega Hospital
Today, vast health networks sprawl across cities and regions, serving as engines of employment and economic growth. Hospital design must account for complex equipment, disaster-safe infrastructure, flexible use, future growth, and the daily flow of patients, families, and workers. Content from the exhibition Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics, curated by MASS Design Group...
Illustration of a yellow school bus parked on a city street. Beside the bus, a clear rectangular tent structure with the words Covid-19 Mobile Lab in red letters.
Field Hospitals
Emergency hospitals and clinics are erected during wars, disasters, and epidemics. Since the 19th century, field hospitals have been prefabricated off-site or made with cheap, readily available materials. Built for temporary use, these rough facilities often stay in use well past their intended lifespans. In spring 2020, emergency hospitals were built in New York City...