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COVID-19: Architecture firms churn out protective face shields using their 3D printers


COVID-19: Architecture firms churn out protective face shields using their 3D printers

KPF, BIG, bKL, edg, Höweler + Yoon, Handel Architects, Grimshaw, Terreform One, Weiss Manfredi, and Brooks+Scarpa among the firms making protective gear for front-line medical personnel.

U of Chicago Medicine workers with face shields produced by bKL architects.

University of Chicago Medicine workers with face shields produced by bKL architects

Architecture firms from coast to coast have suddenly turned into manufacturing centers for the production of protective face shields and face masks for use by healthcare workers fighting the COVID-10 pandemic.

“Operation PPE,” launched by Jenny E. Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Professor in Architecture and Associate Dean for Design Initiatives at Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), has already delivered hundreds of 3D-printed visors and laser-cut shields to Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City.

Operation PPE is a collaboration involving Cornell AAP, Sabin Lab (Sabin’s research lab at AAP, which specializes in computational design, data visualization and digital fabrication), Cornell Engineering, Cornell Computing and Information Science, and a growing number of design firms.



One design firm on the PPE front is Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), which is using its Ultimaker 3D printers to produce 400 or more visor frames every day for use by healthcare professionals in New York hospitals.

Another is BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), which, like many others, is using an open-source template devised by Erik Cederberg of the Swedish 3D printing company 3Dverkstan to 3D print the frames, after which a sheet of semi-rigid plastic that can be affixed to the frame. (The instructions can be found here.) After some experimentation, the BIG team tweaked the original design, which has tripled the speed of the operation to where they can produce 55 units a day. They are delivering face shields to Mount Sinai and Cornell hospitals in New York City.



Chicago-based bKL Architecture has been delivering batches of face shields to healthcare workers at the University of Chicago Medical Center since March 28. “Our current stock of 3D printers can produce 50 face shields per day,” said Thomas Kerwin, FAIA, LEED AP, bKL’s Founding Principal. “We are aiming to double our production to 100 shields per day with four more 3D printers.”


bKL staff pack face shields for delivery to Chicago healthcare workersbKL staff pack face shields for delivery to Chicago healthcare workers


The firm has raised $36,676 from 255 donors on its GoFundMe page to buy materials ($.75 per shield) and 3D printers. Kerwin said the additional printers will be donated to the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Library once the COVID-19 crisis has passed or supplies of personal protective equipment have been made more accessible.


University of Chicago Medical Center staffer (and Cubs fan) takes delivery from bKLUniversity of Chicago Medical Center staffer (and Cubs fan) takes delivery of 3D-printed face shields from bKL designers



NYC-based architecture/engineering firm edg switched its launch of a custom 3D-printed furniture and façade collection into producing face shields. Thanks to the firm’s German-made BigRep industrial 3D printer, they are churning out 100 face shields a day. The edg team made their first delivery of about 300 face shields to Weill Cornell Medicine on Tuesday, March 31.


3D-printed COVID-19 face shields awaiting distribution by the NYC Economic Development Corporation

3D-printed COVID-19 face shields awaiting distribution by the NYC Economic Development Corporation


“We monitored open source files in the early days and settled on 3DVerkstan, and we were able, with some modifications, to increase our production by about 20% from original estimates,” said John J. Meyer, edg’s Founding Principal. "We made the arm pieces shorter to enable additional pieces per run, we tightened the fit to the face, and made a few other tweaks to be able to produce as many as possible. 

"We've been working with 3D printers for a very long time, so from a technical standpoint, this is solidly in our wheelhouse," said Meyer. "The biggest challenges were largely logistical—chief among them, how to keep everyone safe while we made these [face shields]."

Meyer said the response from healthcare providers has been "incredibly positive." "Our first batch went to Weill Cornell, which is getting hit incredibly hard," he said. "These medical professionals are on the front lines of this battle without needed supplies, so they are very appreciative of any support. We heard one doctor talk about the added emotional support generated by everyone’s efforts, which is an unexpected bonus."


Face shield produced by edg


Face shield produced by staff of A/E firm edg, New YorkFace shield produced by staff of A/E firm edg, New York



Other architecture firms producing face shields for hospitals in their local areas are Höweler + Yoon, Handel Architects, Grimshaw, Terreform One, Weiss Manfredi, and Brooks+Scarpa. Marcus Fairs provides an excellent rundown on these and other efforts at face shield production in the media source dezeen, based in the UK. Another excellent resource is this unsigned article in designboom.

Self-isolated staff at HMC Architects, headquartered in Ontario, Calif., with offices throughout the Golden State, have also been actively producing face shields for hospital use. CannonDesign has been leading the formation of a coalition to encourage do-it-yourself sewing of fabric face masks (as opposed to plastic face shields) for use by healthcare workers and the public.

Face shield parts produced remotely by HMC staff in California.Face shield parts produced on remote 3D printers by HMC staff in California

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