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How will architectural design change with COVID-19?


During these days of sheltering in our homes, it’s hard not to take a close look at the environment around us. The silver lining is that, if nothing else, the “How to do it at home” projects are on the rise and your closet is probably better organized than ever.

However, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced the design community to reevaluate their life’s work and what it might mean to design for a world that will never be the same; especially when it comes to how to reassemble and utilize large public spaces like airports, hotels, hospitals, gyms and offices.

Rami el Samahy, director of the architecture and design firm of Boston OverUnder and professor at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, explains that this is not the first time in history that cities and buildings will be reinvented or redesigned in response to a greater understanding of a disease. For example, revisit Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the 1800s, London’s reconfigured infrastructure in the wake of the epidemic of cóler 1954 and the reaction of 19th century New York to squalid housing conditions. And now, although the particular repercussions of COVID-19 are yet to be determined, some ideas have already come to light.

On the one hand, as pointed out by architect David Dewane (of the firm of Chicago Barker / Nestor) “architects have been inspired to come up with ideas during those moments when we have nothing else to do.”.

Open offices were already in decline before this coronavirus, the trend will be to design anti-open office “work chambers”. He hopes that everything learned with virtual work will contribute to creating office spaces that allow for a balance of isolated concentration and productive, meaningful collaboration.

If virtual work is successful, if we are in fact more productive, it will fundamentally change the value proposition of the shared workspace.

Not everyone wants to be in a large social park.

Almost everyone predicts that public spaces will move toward greater automation to mitigate contagion, accelerating the development of touch-avoidance technologies: automatic doors, voice-activated elevators, mobile phone-controlled hotel room entry, hands-free switches and temperature controls, automatic bag tags and advanced airport security and check-in.

© Robert Benson / Courtesy of Amenta Emma

Future projects for senior citizens, such as the firm’s Amenta Emma, with hands-free lighting, curtains and temperature controls.

Designers will increasingly turn to antibacterial fabrics and finishes, including those that already exist, such as copper, and those that will inevitably develop. Self-cleaning toilets are also predicted, as well as smaller modular spaces that can be closed to other guests while being opened and disinfected quickly.

Certain building elements that are used for healthcare may now find application in other public spaces, such as reducing the amount of flat surfaces where germs can settle or installing ventilation systems. But health care design is also likely to be updated. And if architects and designers help people start thinking of public spaces more like home and less like someone else’s space, they will be more interested in treating it right.

While social distancing seems to be a necessary, if (hopefully) temporary, action, it stands to reason that concerns about future viruses might encourage architects to design with an eye toward open spaces that allow and encourage people to spread out.

“Giving up on urbanity and density is the wrong solution; after all, we still have a planet to save.”

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