Thinking ahead: Can shipping containers become vaccination units?

Waugh Thistleton Architects in the UK is readying mobile vaccination centres for the post-vaccine scenario

Updated - June 27, 2020 11:23 am IST

Published - June 27, 2020 11:08 am IST

The vaccination unit created in a shipping container

The vaccination unit created in a shipping container

A vaccine has not yet been found for the coronavirus, but the UK is already preparing for a post-vaccine scenario. Experts at Waugh Thistleton Architects, known for its sustainable projects and innovations with timber, have designed mobile vaccination centres crafted from shipping containers. In late May, after weeks of discussions, debates and drawings, the company announced the proposal to fit out 6,500 shipping containers as mobile units.

Presently under discussion with the UK government, the company has said that in about 12 weeks, these containers can be mobilised across the country, stationed in car parks and other public areas. The National Health Service (NHS) staff will then work in shifts to vaccinate the entire population of the UK. The units can go into the heart of villages and remote communities, or be set up in clusters in towns and cities.

Excerpts from an interview with Andrew Waugh, co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects:

What is each unit equipped with? Whom are you collaborating with for medical inputs?

We have worked on the assumption that there will be no internal waiting area and that registration, vaccination and recuperation will happen as a linear process. The idea is that the linear flow of patients will reduce the chances of infection — you don’t want anyone inside unnecessarily.

Each unit will require a secure fridge to store vaccines, a small water tank for hand-washing and an electricity source. It’s likely that the electrical source will come primarily from street lighting, but small back-up generators can be used.

As for the medical know-how, we have collaborated with a consultant immunologist at a well-known hospital in the UK.

Andrew Waugh, co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects

Andrew Waugh, co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects

Where do you source the containers from and how long does it take to make each unit?

The shipping containers are readily available in the UK as we import far more goods into the country [via these containers] than we export. The proposal is to ship the containers to a manufacturing centre and fit them out, which includes include lining and insulating the units with exposed surface mounted services. The principle is to keep it simple, inexpensive and quick. Each unit should take less than two weeks to fit out and will cost approximately £30,000.

How do you see these mobile units assisting Covid relief?

We will need to vaccinate quickly and en masse. We can’t do this in hospitals or health centres and we don’t want potentially infected people in schools or sport centres. Arranging hygienic and secure units across the UK will be very demanding and they will need to cater to varied urban environments and rural locations. The beauty of using shipping containers is that the technology for loading and unloading is universal — the infrastructure to do this exists across the country, even in the islands far north of Scotland.



There has already been talk of converting vacant hostels, schools and stadiums into quarantine centres and vaccination zones. Why is this better?

The key is to avoid infection, so it is ideal we have small, secure spaces that can be easily disinfected and where people can receive their vaccination with minimal contact with others.

Rather than building fresh vaccination centres or converting existing spaces, we need to mass produce a universal product with all the efficiencies. Having to build or convert thousands of buildings across the UK (each one of them different) would be a massive logistical exercise. Meeting quality standards will be difficult if each centre is different.

How do you see building design and architecture evolving post-Covid? Any trends or practices that you want to see less of?

The pandemic has given us the confidence that we can change our world when we need to. We are facing the most important decade of our species’ history and we need to confront this challenge positively by completely changing the way we design and construct our buildings.

The carbon and material resource impact of construction will be absolutely core to the future of architecture. The chapter of concrete and steel skyscrapers must be drawn to a close.

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