Hospitals overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic could find a much-needed capacity lifeline in retrofitted shipping containers. An international task force, comprised of designers, engineers, medical professionals and military experts, has unveiled designs to convert shipping containers into plug-in Intensive-Care Pods as part of an open-source design dubbed CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments). The first CURA biocontainment pod prototype is currently being built in Milan, Italy.

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rendering of doctor and patient inside a shipping container

Designed by Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) in collaboration with an interdisciplinary group of professionals, CURA was developed with an open-source, non-profit framework with the support of the World Economic Forum. For quick deployment, the plug-in units will be repurposed from 20-foot-long shipping containers that can be easily transported anywhere around the world using existing transportation infrastructure. According to the designers, CURA “could be as fast to mount as a hospital tent, but as safe as an isolation ward, thanks to biocontainment with negative pressure” created from an extractor that complies with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIRs). 

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rendering of white shipping container with word CURA on the side
rendering of medical professionals in protective suits outside a series of shipping containers

Cargotecture also offers the benefit of modularity. Individual pods work autonomously but can also be joined together with inflatable structures to create multiple configurations ranging from four beds to over 40 beds. The flexible design allows pods to be installed in close proximity to the hospitals in areas such as parking lots or as standalone, makeshift emergency hospitals in open fields and town squares.

diagram of shipping container with two beds and medical equipment
rendering of two doctors in medical protective suits taking care of patient on ventilator

As a ready-to-use solution, each CURA pod is equipped with all the medical equipment needed for two COVID-19 intensive-care patients — including ventilators and intravenous fluid strands — before deployment. The first CURA prototype is currently being built for testing at a Milan hospital. The open-source project is sponsored by European Bank UniCredit and invites suggestions and improvements on

+ Carlo Ratti Associati

Images via Carlo Ratti Associati