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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Students design portable health-care clinic

By Ellen Liu     2/14/12 6:00pm

Rice students created a portable health-care structure that can fit into a backpack. This proposed structure, dubbed the "Accordion Clinic," won first prize at the School of Architecture's third semiannual spring charrette. The creators are now working toward designing a prototype for use in the field.

A charrette is an architectural design contest, and the objective of this one was to design a health-care structure that health surveillance assistants in Malawi could use for Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders program. In total, there were three entries. The second-place winner was "Under the Wing" – a tent with a square footprint and a gullwing door and a second layer around the clinic space. The "Vertical Tent" – a tent with an inflatable frame – finished third.

The makers of the winning design in the charrette are architecture graduate students Tucker Douglas, Vy Drouin-Le and Samuel Biroscak and Jones College senior Michael Matthews. Douglas said the team had two days to complete its objective.

The structure needed to be easily deployable in the field and meet other requirements. Specifically, it needed to fold up into a backpack that health-service workers can carry. Once erected, it needed to be capable of holding an examination table, preparation area and stool while costing no more than $250. Overall, the structure needed to create a safe environment for treatment.

"Health-care workers in Malawi currently do most of their work in the field unless someone invites them into their home, and if they don't have privacy or basic protection from the elements, less people are prone to come forth for treatment," Douglas said.

Douglas said these restrictions inspired the creation of the Accordion Clinic, a structure which will unfold and use locking hinges called Simplinges as an integral part of the construction.

"We focused on designing something different from a regular tent, since lots of inflatable projects have been done before, and became interested in a structure that pops open and expands and contracts, like an accordion," Douglas said.

Global Health Program Associate Matthew Amdahl (Brown '11), one of five judges who picked the winning entry of the spring charrette, said that of all the entries in the charrette, the "Accordion Clinic" fulfilled the criteria most effectively.

"The design would be instantly recognizable and has a very unique, striking appearance, and the team did very well convincing us that the design was feasible," Amdahl said. "While I think all three designs could work, the Accordion Clinic team seemed to already have a plan about how to do it, which was impressive."

Douglas said the cost restrictions helped the team eliminate certain materials immediately while they focused on visual appeal and ease of set-up. The clinic will contain a series of tent poles that can be snapped into place to erect the structure. Douglas said the team emphasized the importance of having a large opening to welcome people in.

"Regardless of whether you're working in a humanitarian design capacity or in design architecture, the image a structure will project when it is used by the community is very important," Douglas noted.

Douglas said the material cost of the project was just under $250, and the team plans to redesign the clinic and provide a more accurate cost estimate before entering the prototype phase. While prototyping the structure, the team will test different materials and connections to determine whether any other serious changes are necessary.

Douglas said the BTB program has expressed interest in their project, and they are working to determine funding and the next steps.

Baker College senior Kyle Byrne organized the spring charrette and helped select the judges. The competition aims to increase the interaction between architecture students and Rice at large, Byrne said.

Charrette judge Neeraj Bhatia, a Visiting Wortham Fellow at the School of Architecture, said he appreciated the Accordion Clinic's use of a simple system to represent a complex form and spatial enclosure. He said the structure had the ability to create a mobile health infrastructure by "packing up architecture" to provide basic amenities in underprivileged zones of the globe.

"The [Accordion Clinic's] scheme married elegance and enclosure with practicality and durability," Bhatia said.

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