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On March 11, St Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto reached out to ASTOUND, a custom design and build manufacturer, after having been directed by the Ontario Ministry of Health to come up with a spatial solution for COVID testing in order to take pressure off the hospital emergency room. The ASTOUND team rapidly got to work – sketching on napkins, figuring out pricing, and gauging their material inventory. Just before midnight, they had designed a functional layout and individual interventions to transform the research centre across the street from St Mike’s into a temporary assessment centre. It was built in 72 hours and opened on Monday, March 16.

Scale of self-screening kiosks

First and foremost, the team incorporated self-screening registration tables – featuring a polycarbonate screen to protects frontline staff – along the entrance. Measuring 44 inches wide by 40 inches deep, these kiosks are easy-to-manufacture and quick-to-assemble (30 minutes tops). The plastic screen also makes face masks unnecessary at this level of interaction, allowing triage staff to save much-in-demand masks and gloves (supplies collectively known as PPE, or personal protective equipment) for nurses and doctors who need to be in closer contact with patients. Astound’s innovations also includes four testing rooms with medical-grade aluminum walls and individual desks with partitions.

The registration and assessment tables were recently installed in downtown Toronto.

Since the St. Mike’s setup, ASTOUND has worked with hospitals throughout the province, and has even established a call centre and is reaching out directly to more hospitals that may need dedicated centres or ad hoc spaces. One of the healthcare projects the company is currently detailing with its design team is a freestanding and completely enclosed assessment unit for parking lots.

A self-screening kiosk installed in a Toronto hospital.

The company plans to release all of its technical drawings – allowing manufacturers in other parts of the country and around the world to use the designs. “We’re saying, ‘here are the plans – everybody, go and serve your community’,” says Andrew Pittam, VP Client Partnerships at ASTOUND. The plans can be found here.

Iterations of the self-screening kiosks.

ASTOUND is based in Toronto and Oakville, Ontario, and also has facilities in the U.S. The company started out 20 years ago, creating the booths for trade shows and has recently moved on to become a more diversified fabricator, with a portfolio of high-profile projects. A few years ago, it collaborated with Bjarke Ingels Group on the Serpentine pavilion. As it has with many businesses, the coronavirus has forced ASTOUND to pivot. And the company is using this as an opportunity – to both make a big impact on the community and to form partnerships with other design and architecture firms that might have ideas of their own for these types of facilities. “We want to send a message that we want to collaborate on ideas for this,” explains Frank Newton, VP Operations. “The problem is so large that – while we have our own design and manufacturing ability – we need input so we’re partnering with as many as we can.”

A design for a purpose-built facility and self-assessment units in the parking lot.

ASTOUND is now working on ideas that can help small businesses: front desks that can be retrofitted with screening devices; walk-up windows for drug store chains and medical labs, and for fast food purveyors that don’t have drive-throughs. This is both for the current crisis and for the future of retail: “This crisis will change how people interact with one another moving forward,” says Pittam.

In related news: Carlo Ratti Associati has announced the CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments) project, which “aims to convert shipping containers into plug-in Intensive-Care Pods for the COVID-19 pandemic.” The first unit is currently being built in Milan, with the sponsorship of UniCredit, and the project is being developed as an open-source framework. Also in Italy, TAMassociati is working in Bergamo, the province hit worst by the Covid-19 epidemic, to set up a new field hospital for treating COVID patients; it should be fully operational by next week. In New York, the hardest hit state in the U.S., the Javits Centre (the annual home of now-cancelled ICFF) is being repurposed into a 1,000-bed hospital.

Design/Build Company ASTOUND Helps Hospitals Hit Hard by COVID-19

The Ontario firm has partnered with a number of the province’s hospital networks to deliver scalable solutions for screening facilities.

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