The Built Environment After COVID-19.
Sheltering at home will be ingrained in us for years to come and could be the world’s future reality. The fact that one tiny virus from a remote region of China could spread so rapidly, bringing the world to its knees, is beyond belief but real. Architects have been watching the environment adapt to not only how we work but how we interact with public spaces.
Our reactions to disasters for centuries have been to rethink our buildings. After 9/11, buildings had to be secured on the outside with heavy armor and street barricades at all entrances. Avoiding public spaces has become common. Airports, museums, sporting arenas, require prison-like security entrances, guard stations and surveillance cameras at every point.
In the workspace, the 60’s and 70’s open office environment is no longer relevant. Privacy, noise abatement, concentration and productivity increase when office spaces are privatized. While not a return to “Mad Men” private offices, some combination of private cubicles and shared gathering spaces will become the future model office layouts. We designed a co- worker office in Berkeley with a combination of private cubicles and mini-meeting rooms to make the environment inviting for students and remote working people.
As our population explodes, we get used to living in high-density communities and tall high-rises. Already multigenerational living spaces as well as co-habitant complexes are becoming a necessity. As the 24-hour office is here now. Shared offices desks will become indispensable, requiring sophisticated methods of workspace adapting to the individual user, just as today’s cars adapt to the current driver at a touch of a button.
We navigate public spaces hands-free more often than we think. Keyless hotel room access and voice activated light switches, appliances and drapery are readily available. Soon we will be able to access virtually anything without lifting a finger...literally.We already have automatic door openers in markets and retail stores, and I expect to see them at public restrooms. Both commercial and residential ventilation systems will include HEPA, or High Efficiency Particulate Air, filters that remove 99.9% of airborne contaminants.
On the horizon are more effective hand sanitizer stations on street corners and at all public building entrances. While common at restaurants and markets, I expect retail shops and food trucks to follow. Automated public temperature monitors at public and medical facilities will instantaneously warn of potential contaminations. There are UV-C sanitation lights that can sterilize a room and potentially “clean” visitors before entering public buildings.
When I was on a cruise ship recently, I was amazed to be greeted at restaurants and ship events by smiling hostesses pumping sanitizers on everyone’s hands. A sanitation stand isn’t as welcoming but a necessary part of our future.
We can’t give up on public gatherings. That’s why sports, concerts, plays, rallies and religious events are distinctive human benefits, part of our human genes. We just need to make the experiences safer.
Chris d Craiker, AIA/NCARB