USC Architecture announces summer research initiative to explore how built solutions could avert future pandemics

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USC Architecture announces summer research initiative to explore how built solutions could avert future pandemics

A Los Angeles freeway sits empty during the coronavirus crisis. (Drew Tilk/Unsplash)

The USC School of Architecture in Los Angeles has launched Project Héroe, a new research initiative developed in collaboration with New York-headquartered architecture firm HLW and the USC Keck School of Medicine that entrusts an interdisciplinary team of architects, medical professionals, consultants, contractors, and current USC Architecture students and recent graduates with a most imperative task: exploring design-driven built solutions that can stave off future “COVID-19-like” pandemics.

“Project Héroe will study how COVID-19 can help identify infrastructures that will thwart future pandemics and allow people to interact unhindered by social distancing,” explained USC Architecture in a press statement announcing the initiative. “Over five weeks, the task force will investigate two key questions: ‘Is there a built solution that can be implemented to stem future outbreaks of a similar virus?’ and ‘What can we do as architects to create an environment where this problem can be solved?’”

While the architects, medical experts, consultants, and contractors involved with the initiative are engaging on a volunteer basis, the involvement of six core researchers—all USC students and alumni—will be as part of a paid summer research project.

Project Héroe is being helmed by David Swartz, a USC Architecture alumnus and senior partner at HLW, who said that his aim is to “have an impact on the world and on the safety of our future.” Swartz first wrote about the initiative in an op-ed published last month in Architect.

HLW has published a wide range of sector insights since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, touching down on workplace strategy, lighting, higher education, and other topics.

“We teach that architects are active participants in their society and can solve a wide range of issues through creative built solutions,” said Milton S. F. Curry, USC School of Architecture dean. “Project Héroe provides our students with a rare opportunity to put their citizen-focused architectural education into practice to help solve a current global crisis. They can make an immediate impact on our future with their fresh, innovative thinking. We are honored that HLW and USC Keck School of Medicine elected to collaborate with our students on this timely project.”

To date, $43,500 in funding has been raised from the USC Architectural Guild as well as local and national firms in support of Project Héroe.

USC Architecture, as well as USC Keck and other entities associated with the school, played vital roles in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic through their involvement with Operation PPE, a massive collaborative grassroots undertaking first initiated at Cornell AAP and other departments within that university to generate (through 3D printing technology) and supply front line health care workers with protective gear that, at the time, was in such dire short supply. The West Coast arm of that effort, which quickly spread to other architecture schools in Southern California and beyond, was spearheaded by Alvin Huang, founder of Synthesis Design + Architecture and professor at USC Architecture.