Using Creativity as a Weapon Against Ebola

Creativity will literally save lives, quickly, if Architectural and Environmental Design Department faculty member and architect Timmy Aziz and student Heather Kohlberger ’15 (Environmental Design BFA) have their way. They are part of a team working to create better protections for healthcare workers on the front lines of the Ebola crisis.

As the crisis escalated in 2014, fear in the United States reached near panic based largely on the premise that health care workers could contract and spread the disease if not properly protected. Cases of sickened doctors and workers dominated the news.

To address the global pandemic, a group including Aziz and Kohlberger has crafted a proposal to create an Ebola Isolation Tent. “The idea behind the tent is to isolate the individual patient rather than the individual healthcare worker,” Aziz said. Since healthcare workers would interact with the patient from outside of the tent, workers would be able to provide more continuous care because they wouldn’t have to deal with the constraints related to putting on and taking off protective gear.

Aziz is perfectly suited to work on this potentially transformative project. He is a registered architect who has practiced in the United States, Europe, and Asia, creating designs for buildings, products, and furniture. He studied physics at Oxford University’s Trinity College and has taught at numerous colleges in the United States and China. His work has been published in magazines, including Domus and ArchTech.

The tent could become a game changer in the treatment of Ebola and public health. The group came together in response to the Emergency Ebola Design Challenge, held in October 2014 by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design, along with Jhpiego, a nonprofit health group. The goal was to bring students, faculty, and clinicians together to collaborate and develop new protective gear for health workers fighting the deadly virus.

After sharing their proposal, Aziz and his team received $5,000 to continue to develop the idea. Since then, they have been meeting and working on the prototype, with Aziz creating many of the drawings and Kohlberger responsible for much of the sewing. They hope to begin testing the tent around the end of the spring semester. Kohlberger is working with Aziz to troubleshoot any unresolved issues as the project moves from the design phase to fabrication.

She believes strongly that collaboration between artists and scientists can shed new light on stubborn challenges. “The combining of creative and artistic intellect with that of science and research can only help to create a more universal and thorough approach to solving a problem,” she said.

The MICA senior is not taking lightly her role in potentially saving thousands of lives and views the opportunity to volunteer her time and design skills as not only a privilege, but a necessity. “Applying aesthetic knowledge for practical development that can provide service and solutions to ethical issues is of the utmost value,” she said. “As rising artists and designers, we are responsible for maintaining a level of social and political consciousness.”