April 15, 2020

Architects Pitch In: Making Face Shields, Expanding the Local Support Network

COMBATING COVID-19: Architects Felix Heidgen, left, and Dustin Bailey work to create face shields for health care workers on the frontlines in caring for coronavirus patients. A Studio Hillier team has come together in the last ten days to create and deliver 280 protective face masks to Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center and a number of other hospitals in the area. (Photo courtesy of Studio Hillier)

By Donald Gilpin

It’s not only the coronavirus that is spreading with astonishing speed. Counter-measures of local officials, health workers, and first responders, and initiatives of local organizations and thousands of individuals have expanded to support communities in battling the virus.

On April 3, Studio Hillier comptroller Jerilyn Angotti read an article about the shortage of face masks, with health care workers on the frontlines facing dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). She wondered if masks could be made with the firm’s 3D printer. When she asked two architects in the firm, Dustin Bailey and Tsvetelina Churalska, that question, they went into action.

Bailey took the firm’s printer home, where he could program it with his design for the mask’s head clasp and run it nonstop around the clock. Churalska began gathering the plastic supplies, including the acetate for the mask itself. By 11 p.m. on April 3 they had a team and network in place to begin printing the next day.

They joined the SOMA NJ 3D Printers Alliance — a Facebook group of people throughout the state who are using their printers to make shields, assembling pieces, and making hospital drop offs — and proceeded with the work. Other architects at Studio Hillier punched the holes in the acetate, and helped with design, printing, and logistics.

“We worked nonstop,” Churalska said. “We love what we’re doing. I’ve been so happy. It’s emotional to know that you’re helping so many people in need. You never know how many people you’re affecting. The response from the entire office has been great. People have been so supportive.”

By Monday afternoon, April 6, less than four days later, they were ready to deliver a total of 75 Verkstan face shield masks to St. Mary’s Hospital in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center.

Since then they have donated 205 more face shields to five hospitals and two nonprofits in the Princeton area: Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, and Bancroft and Hamilton Continuing Care Centers, in addition to the first two recipients.

“Health care workers are on the frontlines risking their lives taking care of the ill,” wrote Churalska in an email. “As architects, this is the least we can do. It is vital in a crisis like this for everyone who has the ability to contribute. Everyone has a role they can play.”

The enterprise continues to develop rapidly, with many local organizations getting involved, and the group hopes to donate 1,000 face shields by the end of April. Together with the Princeton University School of Architecture and STEAM Works Studio, a makerspace and K-12 education hub in Princeton, the Studio Hillier group has established the Princeton PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Collective, a group working together in various efforts to produce PPE for New Jersey hospitals and other first responders.

“Our network of partners and volunteers has been expanding by the minute,” said Churalska. “This project has lifted the firm’s spirits by allowing our employees to give back to the community using their talents. It has been incredible witnessing the camaraderie of our staff and community. This project is a win for everyone involved. Not only are we sharing our talents and resources with everybody who needs our help, but we are also, keeping our staff employed and optimistic during these very uncertain times.”

Principal J. Robert Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder, praised the initiative and teamwork of the Studio Hillier workers. “I am very proud of these younger members of the firm for having the creativity to realize that we had a tool in our 3D printer that could help to ease an equipment shortage for the local medical and emergency facilities,” he said.

Thousands of shields and face masks for health workers are needed in central and especially in northern New Jersey. “There’s a great need everywhere,” Churalska said. “The local community has been very grateful for our efforts.”

Dr. Joseph Hancock, medical director at Princeton Anesthesiology Services and Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center responded in a text message to Churalska, “They look great. I literally teared up after I opened the box and saw all you accomplished for us. Thank you so much for doing this. It fulfilled two needs for my colleagues: PPE and demonstrating that our community cares, they are thinking about us, and they want to help. The latter is so important right now.”

Other key players on the Princeton PPE Collective team include designer Onolee Oberrender, Princeton University graduate student Frances Jacobus-Parker, and SOMA founder Jake Ezzo.

Churalska reflected on her perspective on her career as an architect in the light of this project. “As architects we have a social responsibility to the world that extends beyond our practice,” she wrote. “We can have a significant role in improving the well-being of communities by using our knowledge and expertise.”