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Covid-19 and the shift in architectural design | Sustainable and healthy environments
July 5, 2021 at 1:00 PM
by Devayani Bapat

Covid 19 brought the world to a standstill. The last year saw catastrophic destruction, solitude, growth in mental health issues, the rise of catharsis, death, sadness, and a growing need for hygiene and anti-virus measures to be put into place. We live in an environment currently that cannot sustain the strain of the coronavirus and the end of the pandemic has given rise to a new conversation - Architecture in a post-covid world.

The fear of infection, the fear of proximity, the fear of moving around freely have now been instilled in the human race and this fear is here to stay. Covid-19 has changed the world and now pan globe its inhabitants will look at their environment as one that existed pre-covid and one that will now exist post its end.

How Architecture is going to change in a Post-Covid World?

1. History

2. The problem

3. What will change?

4. How architecture is going to change

1. History

From grocery stores to restaurants, banks, airports, and possibly any other public space that you can imagine, have now been divided into socially distanced environments. Isolation centers have increased in number to fulfill the need of the hour. Research shows that through history, civilizations have adapted to and transformed in accordance with epidemics and health catastrophes to provide an environment that is comfortable for residents. Covid-19 is no different and neither is the civilization of today. Man and woman will adapt to the infectious surge and history will repeat itself.

Architecture will alter its practices to provide virus-resistant environments that will be able to sustain the strain. When cholera and typhoid grew during the industrial era, sanitary reform was introduced in a large way. It was a physician named John Snow from London who pointed out that it was contaminated water that was causing the deaths of several people. This led to the sanitary reform movement thereby leading to a change in the way sewage systems and water drainage systems were built all over the world. Sanitation became the prime focus of architecture in those times that furthermore led to the initiation of underground water piping systems. This is just one instance of how architecture adapted to the need of the hour.

If one goes to observe, the rise of various health issues of the past such as the plague, Spanish flu, and tuberculosis amongst others, have given rise to the need to redesign communities and shape them in a way that battles and controls the spread of the disease.

2. The Problem

Social distancing, isolation, space, are all privileges that one does not even realize they have. In third world countries or even smaller cities or really large ones, space is a constant issue and although the WHO and the world have come together to realize that social distancing is the only way one can #BreakTheChain of the coronavirus, it may not be possible or practical for a large chunk of the global population. While many might not have this opportunity at all, post-pandemic, a lot of people who do have the opportunity, will be spending most of their time at home, and socially distanced and self-sustainable housing concerns will have to be addressed. Spaces will now adopt the perspective of a major transformation to ensure the inhabitants of the home have their own space, given the circumstance.

3. What will change?

History is witness that architectural design has always adapted to the given pandemics that have been faced by the world and now is no different. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the flaws in the current architectural functionality of design and architects today have to address this, as it is the need of the hour. We will explore how nature is going to play a key role in this change and observe how housing, offices, and cities (civilization expansion) are about to change in the coming future. Housing spaces will change and housing strategies and family living conditions will change to give way to a more nuclear setup. Office spaces will move to an entirely virtual, WFH scenario and if not, essential working spaces will tend to take on a spread-out seating plan with fewer desks and fewer available chairs to prevent direct contact and limit association and the spread of the disease.

"To be able to create a self-sustaining environment, we have to think about making ourselves, our cities, and our countries independent. By 2050 we are not going to be sharing food. You have to protect areas that will best enable you to grow food." - Martha Schwartz

With the rules established during the pandemic, people have been walking around their localities, cycling to get some fresh air, and avoiding cars as distances traveled are now relatively shorter. With gyms shut, the only form of exercise available to one (apart from home workouts of course) is that of walking, jogging, and cycling. Architects in terms of city planning will now focus on building more cycling tracks, walkable paths, parks in each neighborhood, and jogging tracks as an imperative inclusion of infrastructure.

Very often in bigger or smaller cities, the city center is often the area with the most shopping facilities, healthcare, and government offices. This practice needs to be more dispersed and available to people from different localities and hence must be more suburb specific. With the lack of space and the ever-growing world population, cities now will go from growing vertically to growing horizontally. Social distancing in places and new-found importance laid on the availability of open spaces and hence growing vertically only intensifies the problem whereas growing horizontally helps combat the issue.

4. How architecture is going to change

Architecture strategies are about to change and become extremely self-sustained. Spaces and buildings will now be more self-sufficient and encapsulate most things that individuals will need. The focus is now going to shift on equipping a city and its inhabitants with greenery, open spaces where they can interact with one another without the fear of proximity. Architecture will also adapt to utilizing technology and making a shift to a more contactless environment for individuals to exist in, in order to reduce touch. Standardization of processes, equipment, material, and building components will also help speed up the process of reacting to a pandemic or health crisis in the future and it is something that architecture firms and designers in the future will definitely consider.

Sustainability usually focuses on solely the environment, however, one must not forget that the environment supports mankind and vice versa. They coexist and hence sustainable architecture given the current scenario will definitely make a shift and accept health infrastructure as an important vertical of the healthy and sustainable architecture of the future. It’s change to look out for, one that is inevitable.


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