The Javits Center: The Site of a Giant Instant Hospital

Something to keep in mind as much-needed temporary hospitals spring up almost overnight in New York City: Tents and temporary partitions can be dynamic and rewarding design projects.

Still from Governor Cuomo’s tour of the Jacob Javits Center

Good design can vastly improve such projects’ utility and vastly cut the time it takes to set them up on-site. The conversion of the Jacob Javits Center to one of the city’s largest medical facilities in just a few days is a good example.

Professor Craig Berger (Visual Presentations and Exhibition Design) says these structures predate the current coronavirus disaster. “There is a long history of specialized spaces being converted to medical use in a natural disaster or pandemic,” he adds.

Makeshift beds at the Jacob Javits Center @Office of Governor Cuomo

Since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina showed limitations in space convertibility in the New Orleans area, a number of companies have taken leadership roles in converting facilities to meet emergency needs, says Prof. Berger.

“Beyond the military, which not only includes hospital ships, but also rapid temporary tent hospitals, convention centers have taken the lead role in convertibility,” he says. “Not only do they have large footprints and floor areas, but modular flats used for convention exhibits and meetings are easy to turn into hospital rooms.”

Still from Video of Governor Cuomo touring the Jacob Javits Center @Office of Governor Cuomo

The Javits Center installation looks nothing like the tent hospital familiar to MASH viewers, and in fact seems surprising to the uninitiated as a hospital venue in the first place.

But Prof. Berger notes that the Javits Center’s large outside doors – a feature few exhibit attendees ever see — can admit additional bathroom and sanitation trucks, and even large amounts of freight such as pallets of medical supplies and equipment.

One of the makeshift hospital beds at the Jacob Javits Center @Office of Governor Cuomo

In fact, Prof. Berger explains, “this is why the Javits Center is generally considered a first choice for temporary emergency medical space.”

All that said, the United States does not have a deep history of developing space for pandemics and usually has used separation techniques – dividing large spaces into small, individual rooms — that are not optimal.

(Video below contains ambient noise, but no speech.)

Today, Prof. Berger says, “modular companies like Octanorm and Classic Exhibits specialize in making mobile partitioning structures that are more anti-microbial,” an exciting and challenging new field for designers. “Most of the exhibition industry is gearing to this now,” he says.

Prof. Craig Berger teaches courses in exhibition design, experience design and design management.  He is the author of “Wayfinding: Designing And Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems.”

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