Modeling Emergenc(i)es

Darla Lindberg
May 01, 2003

Hepatitis C infection is the most common reason for needing a liver transplant. Finding a cure for hepatitis C is difficult since human-cell activity in a petri dish often does not model what goes on in the human body. Researchers conceptually modeling the liver seek to replicate its structure and mechanics —;and by doing so, to replicate its function. External forces applied to the model substitute for the impacts of toxins, drugs, and stress. Conceptualizing the liver as a unique ecosystem impacted by other systems, substances, and biorhythms is a powerfully effective approach to designing drug therapies and to understanding how the liver “system” responds to external forces. This kind of thinking is also at the core of what it means to create “an architecture” for any complex problem.

The conceptual model below is an attempt to identify the changing needs of a U.S. Coast Guard Emergency Response Center planned for construction in Boston. The emergent problem in this case, as determined by our design team, is a large-scale public-health emergency. Strategic planning for such arduous situations requires addressing the possibility that the threat to a community's health may not only be medically related, but may also involve the delivery and dispensing of food and supplies, the coordinating of large teams of volunteers and fleets of transportation, and the management of utilities and communications. To best accommodate all of these issues, our team chose to site the planned emergency center next to I-95 and the Fleet Center, a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment facility.

Clearly, modeling the emergent problem does not look like a building. For instance, a Boston Yellow Pages (far right-hand block with two bolts holding it upright) is used to depict the Fleet Center, describing syntactically an entire community of individuals, services, places, and expertise. In that same spirit, the model explores how supplies necessary for everyday operation of an emergency department would be received in containers transportable by truck. In a large-scale emergency, these containers would be used to bring additional diagnostic and quarantine equipment, medicines, drug refrigeration, and clean linens. The containers are modeled through plastic picture frames (at left in model) filled with images denoting their contents. They rest on a block of wood from a wharf near the Fleet Center, again denoting the site we selected. Other elements in the model note transportation opportunities; embedded texts describe our intentions. The final concept that emerged transforms the Fleet Center, the largest civic space in the city, into a large-scale treatment facility.

Conceptually modeling the emergent problem, instead of limiting ourselves to traditional drawings of traditional solutions, not only articulated possibilities for Boston, but also showed the potential for any community to transform its largest public assembly spaces for a range of civic needs.

three pictures, one of nurses rushing patient, and two of micro machines
David Niemiec

Darla Lindberg, R.A., is associate professor of architecture and assistant head of the Department of Architecture in the College of Arts and Architecture, 303 Engineering Unit C, University Park, PA 16802; 814-965-9535; Her work involves integrating complex systems and clean environments —;environments requiring high-containment protocols. Her design team includes undergraduate architecture students David Niemiec, Jacklyn Arndt, and Suzie Kilareski. The design research study described above was supported by the American Institute of Architects and the Academy of Architecture for Health.

Last Updated May 01, 2003