Has COVID made our built spaces morbid?
We as a world are facing a pandemic situation, which is growing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis. The scare has driven us all into our houses and has instilled a deep fear of the outdoors and public spaces. Today, though we crave the outings and gatherings, we still fear going out to public spaces.
The virus has changed our outlook towards everything that we once believed or held. Our habits have changed; working techniques and tactics have changed; eating habits have changed, and so has our lifestyle. Masks and gloves are the new in things, a wave of the hand or namaste has replaced shaking hands and hugs. The world is changing, and so are we, and so is the built environment around us.
For us, as a design community, the way we perceive spaces and design it has changed, and the virus has made us re-evaluate our work. People are going to be concerned about how they gather and use large public spaces, like the theatres, shopping malls, airports, salons, hotels, gyms, offices and most prominent hospitals. We now must design spaces that might help in securing people from the spread and keep them safe. As Rami el Samahy, a principal at Boston architecture and design firm OverUnder points out; this won’t be the first time in history that cities and buildings will be re-imagined or redesigned in response to an increased understanding of the disease.
Open offices were anyways on a decline even before the Covid-19 pandemic. An isolated cubicle not only helps in deep thinking, isolated concentration and productivity but also help get in a lot of uninterrupted work. Also, the pandemic has put forth us the lucrative idea of working from home and how it is a possibility. Many of us are finding working from home, not only helpful and safe but even more productive. If the system is proving to be productive, why not implement it for good in the future. Everyone is not interested in being a part of the social playground, and they are quite comfortable in the home environment that they are presently working in.
It’s highly predictable that public spaces will be moving towards automation to alleviate the problem. Touchless technology like, peddle activated or voice-activated elevators, automatic doors, phone accessed hotel rooms, sensor-activated doorbells, hands-free light switched and temperature control, advanced airport security and check-ins are going to be on a rise seeing the rise and development of the Covid-19 virus. Also, the need for sanitization and hand washing is of utmost importance, hence as metal detectors are installed at entrances of malls and public spaces so shall temperature detectors and some sort of UV disinfectant sprayers be installed, not only at public spaces entrances but also building entrances.
The biggest challenge we faced was accommodating patients in hospitals. The designing of hospitals will have to be made more efficient and compact. The rooms should be planned and designed in a manner that it can be easily converted into an ICU and accommodate patients with high risks, or be converted into a room that can accommodate more patients. Also, the one-point access and waiting area for visitors and patients alike could lead to a spread of the virus. This can be altered by providing various waiting nooks and providing alternate entries, to avoid the clash and interaction of highly contagious people with the visitors.
While social distancing has become a motto in the recent times, though for the time being, it has brought to light the need for open spaces around the built form, to scatter and spread out at times like this. The inter-mingled public spaces might help keep and maintain a safe distance between the entities using the built form.
The pandemic and the virus have brought to our notice that it indeed is a very small world and we all are highly connected, more than we imagine. It’s just a race to, maybe, be a little less physically connected.