The Corona Virus, aka. Covid-19 first reared its ugly head in China towards the end of last year. It then wrapped its tentacles around the world, quickly morphing into a “pandemic” that threw our living dynamics (and thus lifestyles) down a radically different path of home offices, facemasks, obsessive hygiene practices, social distancing, and government-enforced lockdowns galore. Now, the ice is ever so slowly beginning to thaw, but the damage is permanent. This new era is defined by looming questions and re-adaptation; the consequence: an uncertain road to an unknown future. It is only natural to foresee the same for cities and architectural practices, given how intertwined this shift is with individual and societal norms. Covid-19 is neither history’s first, nor its last-ever pandemic to force architects and urban planners to re-organize and re-plan whole cities and buildings. We don’t have to look too far back in time to see that either: the cholera epidemic of 1954 forced Paris and London to re-design their infrastructures which -on that note- had just been renovated a century prior, in the 1800s, by Haussman. Be it pandemics or war, any mass crises is bound to trigger change is no exception. In developed capitalist countries, cities have rendered themselves, their stocks, and their output alike significantly more flexible over the past thirty or so years. Following WWII, cities re-built themselves around industry and manufacturing. The cities of today, on the other hand, have reorganized themselves around the finance and various other service sectors. Guy Debord refers to this as “the society of spectacle” and claims that such cities as a spatial reflection of that are consumer rather than producer-centred. The current pandemic has forced every member of the society of spectacle to take refuge in the comfort of their personal shells, where things are safe. Shopping malls, hotels, and stadiums have either become moribund or have been converted into makeshift hospitals. As we’ve yet to advance beyond just a few steps along this beaten path, the lessons that this pandemic is supposed to teach us remain unclear as of yet. COVID-19 has desertified our consumerist cities and public spaces -to the point that we have no other option but reconceptualise them, and in short order at that. Cities Folding into Residential Spaces
One consequence of the pandemic is it that it has pushed us back into our homes and told us to remain there. Architects and designers aside, even Joe Average has begun to take an interest in certain details about dwelling layout something most never would have contemplated doing in the past. Working from home, and the conditions evoked by quarantine, have both raised the bar on just important dwelling configuration and thus comfort area. The “new normal” poses critical problems for designers and architects to work out, such as how functional a space ought to be, and rooms allotted as office spaces. An article published in The Architectural review, “Public house: The city folds into the space of the home” touches upon the notion that the traditional boundary between the dwelling and the public space is now not so clear-cut. As billions of people are confined to their homes, they have begun to trickle on to their balconies and next to their windows, as they are their only thresholds stepping into the city. This newfound sense of awareness has propelled us to think about just how important a role patios play in bringing the urban space into the home. Alas, the skyrocketing price of a single square metre means that balconies are becoming more and more scarce. Nevertheless, we can expect that trend to turn on its head in the post-pandemic dwelling.
Other important items worth consideration include natural light, Access to clean, fresh air and natural ventilation. One moreover cannot think about a dwelling’s physical characteristics without also thinking about how it functions as well, in turn giving us a clue as to we ought to go about renewing. Sterilization and disinfection pose a whole other matter all together that we have to think about when re-designing a dwelling’s interior. Should, for instance, we look to the notion “clean foot / dirty foot” in public spaces for inspiration? One idea could to make provisions for spaces at a dwelling’s entrance that are designated solely for the purpose of disinfection. This could take the form of a filtered foyer and or wind box that cleans both you and whatever you’ve brought in from outside. Another option could be to adapt sinks installed in entranceways –an otherwise standard feature in villa typology- to apartment flats. The question of how to integrate office space into dwelling architecture, too, is a debate onto itself. How can we add them to apartments when -in the urban context- we only have a certain amount of optimally designed space we can work with? The Australian architecture firm Woods Bagot proposes a modular system called AD-APT as one possible solution to post-pandemic interiors: dynamic separators that can change position as opposed to static walls. What is particularly intriguing about the system is that it adapts to changing functions. It has three modes -day mode, night mode, and play mode- that allow you to reconfigure your space depending on whatever activities you’re engaged in over the day.
What Shape Will Offices Take?
Office life shifted to multi-storey buildings at the round the beginning of the 20th century; moreover, they were very much enclosed. Over time, people began to demand spaces that were social, spacious, and interactive. Now, the onset of social distancing has pushed office design in yet another radically different direction. The trendy open space of yore is no longer as ideal as it once was because it encourages people to work alongside one another. We can predict that wide corridors, overgrown thresholds, and workspaces will return to being divided up. Other open areas such a coffee bars and cafeterias, too, will most likely be re-conceptualized as individual spaces. Social spaces –should there be demand for them- could be placed outdoors, thereby replacing unhealthy, artificial indoor ventilation with natural ventilation instead. Similarly, indoor ventilation systems could also be redesigned to promote healing and to prevent any virus from spreading.
Placing health at the centre of office design will lead to the onset of new parameters and new standards. With social distancing very much in mind, concepts like modular design, adaptable dividers, and pre-fabricated extensions will grant architects the leeway they need to come up with novel solutions. One item that will gain particular significance is cladding high-volume spaces with materials that are easy to clean and that block the circulation of disease. Likewise, architects could also consider playing around with the spatial dimensions and seating arrangements enclosed spaces such that is conducive to social distancing, depending on how many people use them.
Re-imaging Public Spaces
The longer we remain cooped up in our homes, the more we appreciate just how important fresh air and being in the middle of nature are. Humanity’s need to be close to the wild only intensifies during times of crisis. Therefore, we need to brainstorm about ways in which we can better fight against pandemics in the public spaces of crowded metropolises, given that they, more often than not, feed the mushrooming of disease due to high population density. The three most important criteria that architects need to address when planning pubic spaces include the scale of outdoor amenities such as sidewalks and squares, population growth and pedestrian volume, and the ratio of green space per person. They likewise need to find ways of reconfiguring terraces, a common feature of squares, around social distancing. For instance, one could break massive terraces down into either individual units or spaces fit for no more than 2 or 3 people. Part in parcel with that is configuring them so that they offer optimum comfort from an environmental standpoint by maximizing the benefits of sunlight and wind at no cost scale or size. Mass transit is perhaps the biggest challenges we’ve faced thus far during the epidemic. For it to have a future, social distancing cannot be overlooked. Moreover, the public needs to be steered towards physical modes of getting around such as walking and cycling. The cities of Paris and Milan, for instance, have announced bike lane projects as part of their transportation plans as a means of thwarting air pollution and traffic. Much of the rest of the world is expected to follow suit postpandemic and invest in sustainable transportation. Hospitals, above anything, require the most root-and-branch of strategies in terms of spatial approach. In an ironic twist of fate, epidemics transform them from centres of health to centres of disease. This means that we have to take them back to the drawing board. As we have recently seen, hospitals with the infrastructure to handle pandemics have automatically branded as “pandemic hospitals”. Those lacking that infrastructure have had to pull makeshift solutions out of a hat. One possible measure could be to install sterilization units at hospital entranceways. Another could be to create two separate entrances, one for patients, and the other for hospital staff. Either way, potential epidemics/pandemics need to be at the forefront of the next generation of hospital design. It is obvious that upcoming architecture needs to be equipped with a series of measures that can quickly be acted upon in case of disaster or another pandemic strikes. Given the sheer volume of natural disaster, war and disease outbreaks that have occurred in this century alone, its little wonder why so-called crisis architecture is on everybody’s lips. Combine that with concerns about sustainability, and architects will have to whip up with projects that can be built within a short time span and are easy on the wallet whilst being entirely self-sufficient. They have to answer to the needs of crises in the blink of an eye. The above aside, we also foresee that demand will grow to find ways to resolve functional issues in buildings that already exist and, as that folds out, the whole notion of sustainability through natural materials will reveal itself across all types of spaces and in design. A shift in attitude -if not mind-set- that calls past design habits into question awaits us in postpandemic architecture.