As someone pursuing a certificate in Global Health and Health Policy, I often think about how to fuse art and engineering to tackle complex problems in the healthcare space. One such problem is that of designing a temporary medical facility used in remote locations to deliver emergency care. As a cost-effective alternative to traditionally constructed hospitals, these facilities must be portable, flexible buildings that can be erected quickly without sacrificing the quality service they should provide. Moreover, it is essential that they are equipped to handle diverse medical functions from nurse stations to trauma rooms.
“Global Clinic” at the Wellcome Collection presented a solution for this issue in a format that any viewer could understand. The exhibit allowed viewers to experience a mobile clinic by walking inside it. Viewers could also follow the mobile clinic’s design step by step; sketches, photographs, and drawings that influenced and preceded the clinic’s first prototype were placed around the room. Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, BuroHappold, and ChapmanBDSP and built by Stage One, the mobile clinic was sponsored by independent humanitarian charity Doctors of the World. Doctors of the World was formed in 1980 to help Vietnamese refugees who had fled the country after the end of the Vietnam War.
“Global Clinic” piqued my interest as a culmination of engineering and art for the purpose of solving a pressing global health issue. I was awestruck by the engagement a visitor could have with the clinic itself: standing inside it, touching it, and learning about its history, design, and engineering. I could not believe that the clinic could be constructed in only one day with the simple tool of a mallet. Additionally, the clinic, made from recyclable plywood, can tolerate climates as different as those of Nepal, Ukraine, Kenya, and Croatia.
Motivating this clinic’s deployment were pictures depicting the current state in Haiti, Nigeria, Nepal, and Greece. Haiti has suffered due to recent natural disasters, including the 2010 magnitude 7 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. In the Nigerian region of Borno, there are over 1.5 million internally displaced people due to the Boko Haram insurgency. After the 2015 magnitude 8 earthquake in Nepal, known as the Gorkha earthquake, much of the healthcare system was damaged. In Lesbos, Greece, the European migrant crisis has led to millions of migrants undergoing dangerous boat crossings across the Mediterranean.
In all four countries, this clinic would be able to provide primary healthcare, psychological support, and access to sexual and reproductive health services. Currently employed tents in these four countries cannot regulate heat and fail to provide adequate privacy for patients. These camps of tents are often overcrowded and unsanitary. Sketches in glass cases and hanging on the walls illustrated the thought placed into the form and function of each component of the clinic, from large to small. The covering of the clinic regulates heat, and the plywood panels are pre-cut with a computer-controlled machine to ensure their accuracy and stability. Other sketches considered how the various populations, such as an unaccompanied child, one who is physically injured, or someone with a pre-existing disability, would interact with the clinic. Devices within the clinic, such as one that could help patients express how they were feeling, were also shown. The thoughtfulness of each facet of the exhibit, from the motivating images to the clinic’s proposed internal tools, certainly convinced me of the utility of this temporary medical facility compared to alternatives.
Through my global health coursework, I have learned to think critically about the failures of current technological interventions in global health. Potential shortcomings of this mobile clinic include its inability to strengthen local health systems immediately. However, I could not locate any patent flaws of this mobile clinic within its design or engineering, so I believe that the clinic should be deployed where affordable and feasible. I applaud the Wellcome Collection for bringing to the public eye such an important application of architecture.
Photographs by Grace Guan ’20