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Posts Tagged ‘ventilation’

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Photo: Peter Means.
Linsey Marr’s unusual set of skills puts her in high demand for insight into Covid-19 aerosol dangers.

With new Covid-19 data coming out every day, I am a bit less anxious about potential germs on the groceries and a bit more concerned about how long a contaminated droplet can last in the air and how many droplets it takes to get sick. Even the experts don’t know. But it sure is reassuring to read about people who are on the case. Dr. Linsey Marr, for example.

Tara Parker-Pope wrote about her recently at the New York Times. “When Linsey Marr’s son started attending day care 12 years ago, she noticed that he kept getting sick with the sniffles and other minor illnesses. But unlike most parents, Dr. Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, tried to figure out why. …

“Dr. Marr was uniquely equipped to tackle the problem [of airborne illness]. She had graduated with an engineering science degree from Harvard University, where she developed an interest in air pollution during her daily runs breathing car exhaust on nearby Boston streets.

“She earned a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and completed post-doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with Mario J. Molina, a Nobel laureate recognized for research into ozone damage caused by chlorofluorocarbon gases.

“But it was during that first foray into day care germs that she discovered how little was known about airborne transmission of viruses.

‘I was surprised to find out we don’t even know how much of the flu is spread through the air or through touching,’ Dr. Marr said. …

“Now, Dr. Marr’s maternal and scientific curiosity and her multidisciplinary background have made her one of the world’s leading scientists on airborne viruses. Her research led to the publication of a groundbreaking study that found flu virus in microscopic droplets that were small enough to remain floating in the air for an hour or more. …

“Public health officials in the United States and with the World Health Organization have called on Dr. Marr for her expertise, and scientists from all over the world have asked her to review their papers. Her lab has focused on testing new materials to solve shortages of personal protective equipment for medical workers. Working with her colleagues and graduate students, Dr. Marr’s lab found that a large stockpile of expired respirator masks were still effective but that 3-D printed masks unfortunately were not.

“ ‘There are not many people who are trained engineers who also study infectious disease,’ said Dr. X.J. Meng, a Virginia Tech professor who studies emerging animal viruses. … ‘Linsey is one of very few scientists who has this ability to study aerosol transmission because she can use the engineering tools to study the dynamics of viruses and bacteria in the air.’ …

“Part of the reason Dr. Marr has become so popular in public forums is her ability to explain difficult scientific concepts in easy-to-understand terms. She uses the visual of cigarette smoke when explaining viral plumes. To explain a concept called Brownian motion — and why masks can more easily filter the smallest microscopic particles — she uses the analogy of a drunken person stumbling into chairs and walls while trying to cross a room. ‘The particle is the drunk person, and the chairs are the fibers of the masks,’ she says. ‘The fibers stop the particles.’

“When people began asking whether their clothes could be covered in virus after going to the store or walking outdoors, she gave us all a lesson in aerodynamics.

Just as bugs don’t smash into the windshield of a slow-moving car because they’re carried by air currents alongside the car, lingering viral particles also slip by the human body as we move, and don’t smash into our clothes, she explained. …

“She used mathematical models to determine the safety of hugging during a viral outbreak, taking photos with her daughter in various hug positions to explain how to lower risk. She collaborated with Dutch researchers on how we can safely return to the gym. And her team is in the midst of research on the benefits of homemade masks.

“But the demand for Dr. Marr’s expertise also highlights an alarming problem in the study of viruses and respiratory illness. There are, perhaps, fewer than a dozen scientists around the world with extensive expertise in aerosol transmission of viruses, but funding for their research often falls between the cracks of different disciplines. Basic science grants tend to view airborne viruses as a topic to be supported by health funds. But health agencies tend to focus on how a virus behaves inside the body, not how it gets there. Environmental scientists may study waterborne pathogens or air pollution, but they don’t typically focus on airborne transmission of disease. …

“Despite knowing more than most of us about the risks posed by the coronavirus, Dr. Marr exudes a sense of calm about managing risks. She has access to top-rated N95 medical masks, but she chooses to wear a cloth mask, like the rest of us. … ‘For the things we don’t know, it’s good to err on the safe side, but also to not be paranoid.’

“Dr. Marr said she personally focuses on a ‘top four’ for lowering risk — social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing a mask and washing hands.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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When I worked at the Fed magazine, I attended a couple conferences on housing for seniors and learned about a thing called universal design. Universal design espouses the notion of making all architecture accessible so expensive alterations aren’t needed later. Someday, you might be using a wheelchair or crutch in the home you love, and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to reconfigure it for a ramp, flat thresholds, wider doors, handrails, higher toilet seats, etc.?

Similarly during the coronavirus pandemic, architects have been rethinking design so we don’t need too many adjustments in pandemics. Think of all the light switches, doorknobs, and elevator buttons you’re careful not to touch these days! Think of the store ventilation systems you wonder about! What if you didn’t have to worry?

Recently, Carolina A. Miranda addressed this topic in a long feature at the Los Angeles Times.

“In another time, not long ago, an elevator was a conveyance to reach a higher floor, an open office was a spot to clock eight hours while hoping your boss didn’t catch you checking Facebook and a doorknob was one of those banalities of architecture that seemed to warrant attention only when it needed replacing.

“What a difference a virus makes. …

“ ‘If you take the great architectural inventions of the 20th century: the airport, the high-rise, the freeway — those are the things that are challenged the most right now,’ says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. ‘They have great density or they promise movement at high speeds. Those are exactly the things that sit at the crux of the crisis we are going through.’

‘It’s a reset button for the entire world,” says Mark Lee, co-founder of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee and chair of the architecture department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. …

“ ‘I’m working on a synagogue, and that is a crazy problem,’ says Barbara Bestor, founder of Bestor Architecture, a 25-person firm based in Silver Lake. ‘How do you do High Holidays after COVID with 2,000 or 3,000 people?’ …

“The solution may involve segmenting larger spaces and segregating the most vulnerable in a separately ventilated environment. … Or it may involve designing a physical space that, Bestor says, features ‘a robust video component so that people can watch remotely.’

“Gatherings via videoconference could become a way of life. Architects could find themselves designing spaces just for that purpose. …

“First, architecture firms, like all other businesses, must weather the pandemic. … The economics are dire. And yet there is a determination to not waste the moment.

“ ‘Every crisis is an opportunity,’ says Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). ‘The optimist in me believes that this will force us to reevaluate everything that we do.’

“This is a time, he says, to ask ‘the big metaphysical questions’ about architecture and its purpose. It’s also about considering the nuts and bolts. ‘If we don’t get a vaccine, what does that mean? What does that mean in terms of physical space? What do you do with a doorknob?’ …

“ ‘Densities of offices will change,’ [says Bob Hale is partner and creative director at L.A.-based RCH Studios].

“This raises questions about one of the most popular — and widely reviled — workplace designs: the open-plan office, in which rows of workers are jammed around long bench desks.

“These are settings that have a poor track record when it comes to producing actual work. They also, according to a Danish study from 2011, account for significantly higher rates of sick leave — a phenomenon that played out in a study published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, which showed the ways coronavirus hopscotched around an open-plan call center in Seoul. …

“Instead, many of the architects I spoke with visualize once-cavernous spaces segmented into more intimately scaled settings with small clusters of desks. ‘We work in teams, so it’s easy to think of people in groups,’ says Paul Danna, a design partner in the L.A. office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a global firm at work on an office development in Pasadena. ‘It’s a matter of putting barriers between groups as opposed to every individual.’ ”

The future of airports, affordable housing, and density of cities are among the many other design challenges addressed in the article, here. Enjoy.

Photo: Tara Wujcik
“Is there anyone out there who does not like fresh air and cross-ventilation or views?” asks Lawrence Scarpa in an article at the
Los Angles Times. The photo below is from a Brooks + Scarpa housing development for disabled vets that maximizes light and air.

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Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of a great Tracy Kidder book called Mountains Beyond Mountains, has spent many years delivering medical care — and working to alleviate poverty — in remote areas of Haiti. His nonprofit organization, Partners in Health, takes the word “partners” seriously. The teams do not tell the locals what is good for them but makes a point of learning from them and helping them get what they need.

In recent years, Farmer has been in demand in other countries, too. One focus area has been Rwanda. I liked a recent Boston Globe article on the approach to building a Partners in Health hospital there.

“The designers quickly realized that the challenge was not simply to draw up plans, as they had first thought, but rather to understand the spread of airborne disease and design a building that would combat — and in some cases sidestep — the unhealthy conditions common to so many hospitals.

“Learning from health care workers that hospital hallways were known sites of contagion, poorly ventilated, and clogged with patients and visitors, MASS Design decided that the best solution would be to get rid of the hallways. Taking advantage of Rwanda’s temperate climate, they placed the circulation outdoors, designing open verandas running the lengths of the buildings. …

“When it came to building, MASS Design looked at the Partners in Health model of involving local poor communities in health care, and realized that they could apply the same ideas to the construction process. The hospital was built entirely using local labor, providing food and health care for the workers. Unskilled workers received training that would help them get more work; and skilled laborers, notably the Rwandan masons who built the hospital’s exterior from carefully fitted together local volcanic stone, refined their craft and found themselves in demand all over the country. The construction process also beefed up local infrastructure — new roads and a hydroelectric dam — creating more jobs and literally paving the way for future projects.”

To paraphrase what Farmer often says, the biggest challenge to health is poverty. Read more.

Update on the designers from the June 19, 2012, Boston Globe.

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