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USC leads an army of architects making masks for medical workers using 3-D printers

Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES -- KAA Design is known more for creating swanky homes for the likes of Matt Damon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson than it is for responding to a health crisis. Just last week, the Marina del Rey company's 3-D printers -- one the size of a refrigerator, the other resembling a tall photocopy machine -- were humming quietly, crafting small-scale models for a modernist home is Santa Barbara.


The 3-D printers are running 24/7 making face masks for healthcare workers facing nationwide shortages during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The firm's efforts are part of a quickly growing movement organized at USC and involving faculty, students and alumni from the Southern California Institute of Architecture, UCLA Extension and other schools, as well as more than 35 architecture firms and several nonprofits. They are creating face masks and face shields for the Keck Hospital of USC, which plans to distribute them to other hospitals.

The USC architecture school's volunteer network was, as of Monday, about 196 people and 198 3-D printers strong. The group had printed 1,061 "pseudo N95" masks and 481 face shields in a week.

KAA hopes to create more than 500 masks by the end of May.


"It feels really good to participate not just in survival mode, but in solution mode," said KAA's founder and president, Grant Kirkpatrick, who's on the board of the USC architecture school. "It just seemed like a no-brainer to switch gears and keep people healthy."

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The architects sprang into action when Alvin Huang, director of graduate architecture at USC, teamed with Darryl Hwang, an assistant professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at USC. Hwang, who also runs the 4-D quantitative imaging lab at the university, had a digital model for a mask he had adapted from one at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 3-D printing masks in his lab and recruiting individuals with whom he'd connected on Facebook who had 3-D printers.

Huang, who had set out to make face shields after being inspired by a colleague doing the same at Cornell University, had "an army" of architects he'd organized on a Google document sign-up sheet.


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