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Jenny Sabin and Cornell University Launch Operation PPE

Professor Sabin helps spearhead the production of face shields for medical workers through the Sabin Lab and Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

By Rachel Gallaher

3D-printed face shields from the Sabin Lab and Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

In February when I interviewed architectural designer Jenny Sabin for a feature story about her and her experimental, cross-disciplinary work, one thing that stood out was how central the human experience is to her work.

“I’m very interested in human-centered design,” Sabin said during the interview. “At the heart of it, I’m a maker. I want to explore how emerging technologies are impacting the way that we think and work through the design process across multiple scales.”

Known for her material studies and for the design and building of large-scale immersive and interactive installations, which have appeared in lauded places such as the Microsoft campus, MoMA PS1, and Cooper Hewitt, Sabin, like many others in the design community, is parlaying her skills into helping with relief efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of March, Sabin, who serves as the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Professor in Architecture and director of graduate studies at Cornell’s Department of Architecture, was contacted by a colleague, Kirstin Petersen (an Assistant Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering) about the urgent request from Weill Cornell Medicine for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) face shields. By the next morning Sabin and the head of facilities at the college of Art, Architecture, and Planning had put its entire Digital Fabrication Lab in full operation alongside the Sabin Lab.

“I think many of us were at a loss as to how to help given the scale of this global crisis, so when Kirstin reached out to me, there was no question in my mind as to what our next steps would be,” Sabin says. “We immediately got to work and mobilized our labs and 3D printers. I oscillate between utter disbelief and depression over the state of things, that our front-line healthcare professionals are not properly protected, to elation around the fact that we can actually help. I think we are focusing on the positive impact that this tremendous network of makers, architects, engineers, and designers, is making.” As of last week, the project had delivered more than 10,000 protective face shields to doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals on the front lines.

According to Sabin, Cornell AAP and Sabin Lab are collaborating with Cornell Engineering, Cornell CIS and many others across the Cornell community in the efforts to produce the face shields.

“Our students are printing visors from home and our amazing alumni network of New York-based architects have also mobilized their digital fabrication labs and networks,” she says. “What I find most inspiring is the connection between people across disciplines. We are all using our skills and areas of expertise towards a common good and goal to help. We have made a very big and real impact in a short amount of time through the informal, democratic, and collective DIY network that digital fabrication and design affords across disciplines and practice.”

To read more about Operation PPE, or to learn how to get involved and join the network of makers, click here.

Images courtesy of Sabin Lab. 


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