McEwen's Black Box Research Group Leads Collaborative Efforts in PPE Prototyping and Production for the COVID-19 Front Lines



McEwen's Black Box Research Group Leads Collaborative Efforts in PPE Prototyping and Production for the COVID-19 Front Lines

April 14, 2020

Assistant Professor Mitch McEwen has been leading and participating in collaborative efforts with the Princeton community and other designers from across the world in prototyping and producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for those on the front lines of COVID-19.

Information about open source files and prototyping progress can be found on McEwen's Black Box Research Group website as the Black Box Rapid Response:

The Black Box Rapid Response is currently fabricating two models of face shield PPE (shown in image above), at Princeton School of Architecture:

1) 3D Print Files by 3DVerkstan. Instructions from Sabin Lab: Operation PPE.
2) MCQN-XL CNC cut face shield with Kitronik visor based on lasercut MCQN design from DoES Liverpool by Adrian McEwen and Chris Huffee.

McEwen's team got official lab access to do this work with agreement from Princeton's Office of the Dean of Research in mid-March. Soon after, they fabricated about 20 face shields and dropped them off at a Mercer County facility listed on, a site which empowers communities to get PPE to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to pool resources locally, McEwen's Black Box Research Group is currently working with the Princeton PPE Collective which includes collaborators Studio Hillier (a local architecture firm led by faculty member Robert Hillier) and STEAM Works Studio (a makerspace and K-12 education hub in Princeton) in order to increase production to 500-1000 shields per week for New Jersey hospitals and other first responders. 

Processes and files are consistently updated on so that others, especially other architecture schools with similar capacity, can access everything. From the beginning, sharing information and approaches with other architects has been key, From Sabin Lab at Cornell to the CCL group at Iowa State University Department of Architecture. The Black Box team is working now on other PPE, based on incoming requests through the Princeton PPE Collective. This involves a mix of adjusting known designs to readily available materials and shifting designs to the tools available.

For more information to access files or make material donations, please visit


Recent Press:


Mitch McEwen, Jenny Sabin, and Alvin Huang discuss Project PPE, Architects 3d printing and fabricating masks and other protective headgear for healthcare workers, architects helping during COVID-19 and times of crisis, methods of working, and what the pandemic means for the future profession of architecture. 

The Daily Princetonian, 65,000 donations and counting: how the U. mobilized community service in light of COVID-19, by Albert Jiang, April 12, 2020

The Black Box Research Group, led by V. Mitch McEwen, assistant professor of architecture, is spearheading an initiative to 3D print face shields.
An “open source action-oriented research agenda” aimed at re-appropriating the architecture lab to print face shields was recently approved by the Office of the Dean for Research as an exception to the campus-wide shutdown of laboratory operations.

The project lists prototyping adjustable single-use harnesses as one of its “rapid research goals.” Such a design would function as a tight-fitting harness for an “ad hoc fabric mask” that would be able to be produced more rapidly than standard fabric masks.

In a March 23 tweet, McEwen declared the Prusa face shield — based on an open-source face shield design created by a Czech 3D printing company — as the “best thing to print right now.” Even so, McEwen is hoping a revised design will reduce the print time for the visor and is looking into transitioning from laser cutting to relying on a computer numerical controlled blade made by Zünd Systemtechnik AG, a Swiss company specializing in digital cutting systems.

As of April 9, the Black Box Research Group is currently producing two face shield models: an MCQN-designed shield made of polycarbonate or polyethylene terephthalate glycol, as well as a visor designed by a team at the Cornell University School of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

The Architect's Newspaper, Operation PPE creates 3D-printed equipment for the COVID-19 front lines 
by Matt Hickman, April 3, 2020

Mitch McEwen, assistant professor at the Princeton School of Architecture and founding director of Black Box Research Group, has also played an active early role on the design and organizational fronts. As noted by McEwen, one area of focus for the team has been on the material supply chain. “How do you widen the stream of materials coming into this, and how do we get ahead of the curve on the next PPE disaster?” she said, adding that the Department of Health and Human Services has mentioned a potential shortage of PPE gowns is on the horizon. “PPE shortages have been cannibalizing the materials they already have.”

Archinect, Architecture schools are using digital fab labs to 3D print medical equipment
by Antonio Pacheco, March 25, 2020

At Princeton University, the school's Dean of Research recently approved a "Open Source Action-Oriented Research agenda," a project initiated by the Black Box Research Group. Black Box Research Group is a university effort led by Princeton SoA Assistant Professor V. Mitch McEwen; McEwen is also a co-founder of the architectural practice A(n) Office.

The research agenda aims to convert Princeton's School of Architecture's extensive digital fabrication labs into a "New Jersey essential operation," allowing technicians to come together to help fabricated much needed protective masks, face harnesses, shields, Tyvek gowns, test kids, temporary hospitals, and even respirators and ventilators.

A website supporting the project provides a Google form for interested volunteers as well as a collection of 3D printing files and resources for designers.

McEwen has worked to organize resources and information for the effort through Twitter and recently announced the addition of team members from the Cornell University School of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), where Cornell Professor Jenny Sabin is leading efforts between the university’s architecture, engineering, and medical schools geared toward fabricating PPE for the effort.