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COVID-19 & The Future of Architecture
How COVID-19 may shape architecture in the near future
Last updated 23 Jul 2021

There’d be few corners or our lives that haven’t been impacted by COVID-19 in some way. When such a drastic change turns our sense of normal upside down, it ends up shaping every element of society in some way or another, and architecture is no exception. If COVID-19 does have an impact on architecture, it wouldn’t be the first time an infectious disease drove change within this space.

Think of New York’s 19th Century cholera outbreak inspiring the design of Central Park and gradual phasing out of tenement housing; and tuberculosis being the driving force behind modernist architecture. Similarly, COVID-19 may lead to how are homes and work spaces are designed or redesigned over the next few years. Here’s are some changes we can expect to see in near future…
 

Health & Hygiene Factors

We can’t reflect on how a global pandemic might shape the future of the industry without discussing how health & hygiene factors might change, particularly in public spaces where risk of infection and transmission is highest. While it’s unlikely designs will change dramatically to purely cater for a future pandemic outbreak, nuances will work their way into plans. For example, certain elements already standard in healthcare may appear in other public spaces, such as reduction of flat surfaces where germs can sit, and ventilation systems that help remove potentially contaminated air from an area. 

In the accommodation sector, self-cleaning bathrooms, and increased numbers of smaller modular spaces allowing segregation and ease of dismantling and disinfection have been presented as solutions to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We might not see every shopping centre or school refurbished overnight, but it’s likely disease transmission will be on the agenda when designing common spaces. 

Living Spaces  

When lockdown measures confined everyone to the four walls of their home, it led many to scrutinise their living spaces and assessing their homes from a different perspective. It demonstrated the importance of flexibility in our living spaces – suddenly, the kitchen had to double as an office; and the living room floor had to serve as a gym. In an age where ‘connectedness’ was something we valued more than ever, parents and those in shared households rediscovered the importance of personal space and privacy. 

After the pandemic, when consumers see a potential new home, their minds may quickly wonder what it would be like to be trapped in there all day. Open plan living spaces may no longer be desirable, but rather, smaller separated spaces such as dens and rec rooms may star to reappear. The importance of acoustic separation has also become prevalent, so bedrooms spaced away from each other may be preferred in a home layout, and better interior insulation will be a priority for the consumer. The portion of a home used for outdoor living may also be an area that will receive more attention – for example, one particular architect who was designing during the pandemic adjusted their design to allow thirty percent exterior space. 

It remains yet to be seen just how much housing designs might change as a result of COVID-19, and it’s unlikely we’ll see every house on the street transformed. However, examining how people’s expectations of their living spaces have evolved over last few months can provide some insights to architects on how they can approach housing design in the future. 
 

Office Spaces  

A common prediction is that COVID-19 may lead to the gradual phasing out of the open office, with surveys showing that many businesses with open plan offices do not intend to keep that layout in the post pandemic era. While this may be the case for some businesses, the reality is that the cost effectiveness, flexibility with adding and reducing capacity; and the many other benefits that led to open offices becoming popular in the first place simply cannot be replicated with any other layout. 

Some experts have predicted that businesses will reduce the amount office space they need as a result of telecommuting. The way office spaces are used may also be reimagined to better cater for flexibility. For example, an office may not require as many workstations as before, but that space could be utilised for other work purposes.  When designing new workspaces, architects will need to take factors such as telecommuting, social distancing and collaboration into account. 

Even in a post-vaccine world, it’s unlikely office environments and homes will go back to looking exactly as they did pre COVID-19. Whether it’s a change to layout, ways of working, volumes of people, or even the functionalities available, for architects, there is certainly food for thought when designing in a post-pandemic world. 

When designing in a continuously evolving environment, architects should be undertaking the same due diligence in every project. The varying expectations of clients and communities may mean the risk of allegations of professional negligence or injury are still present, if not heightened due to uncertainty and adjusting to new perceptions. Furthermore, with government regulations and compliance requirements also changing frequently, it is more important than ever architects take the time to have robust conversations with their insurance broker to ensure the cover they have is appropriate for the environment and types of work they engage in. 
 

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