Besides leading the whole world through unprecedented events and some surreal experiences, COVID-19 blow has awakened us towards various loopholes and defects that we often neglected in our lives. It has yet again brutally exposed the incapacities of our built environments in front of a pandemic, raising questions on decades-old architecture and urban design practices and lack of preparedness of our systems. However, even though we grappled around the devastating effects of the pandemic’s darkness it also paved the way towards quick, witty actions that took charge of the systems’ functioning and also acknowledged us towards alteration in working, analyzing and implementing action in various structures of the society.
As the pandemic had several effects, it pointed out the need for changes in the way we think about our building typologies and concepts. The concepts of building design must emphasize social interaction without a physical position shift. We need zones in our built environment that can connect the residents through each other, even while they are in isolation. The connection from a flat or apartment with the outer surrounding is necessary as well as the porosity of the building and also within the building which enables a network of communication flow. As it is a fact that the design of a built environment also affects the mental health of the residents, it is the responsibility of an architect and designer to create liveable and vital spaces.
The designs post COVID-19 will emphasize more breathable spaces and air pockets which provide a constant inflow of fresh air and green spaces that act as filters. It will be key to design huge cutouts that let in an abundance of sunlight, air, and visual connection with the outside world that could be mentally healthy while an individual is self-isolating. Along with the design aspects, the choice of materials will also alter, porous and germs resistant materials will opt that can prevent the spread of the virus.
As the cities got engulfed by the effects of the pandemic, it showed a lack of infrastructure the cities had. In a city where building demarcated the development and rated high infrastructure left bleeding with the overwhelming flow of humans in medical facilities which concluded that we are still unequipped to handle such a sudden catastrophe. This led to a challenge to architects and experts to step up and create fast track infrastructure by converting other building structures to medical facilities and hospitals. ExCel Centre, London – NHS Nightingale, National Sports Club of India, Mumbai, St. John the Divine, New York, and Tehran Mall, Iran are few of the examples converted as medical care units.
One of the solutions developed temporary intensive care units as a way to support insufficient infrastructure. The idea was based on creating quick buildable units with low labor force and smart technology used as an intensive care facility or a standalone hospital. One such prototype was developed by Italian architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota, who converted shipping containers into an intensive care pod which could add multiple units as per the requirements. It impacted and helped healthcare facilities by being a prototype of a medical hub, which can replicate across districts swiftly and provide cost-effective solutions.
The nature of our daily facilities will be altered with smart technologies that will revolve around zero human contact gadgets that could reduce the spread of infection. Designs will depend on technologies such as opting for an automated door, screening and disinfectant points will be a part of entrance design and modification in workspace layouts containing glass screens between user desks and virtual conversations to minimize physical human interaction can help curb the infection rate.
Furthermore, practicing social distancing and self-awareness of contact has been potential learnings throughout this pandemic. It has generated consciousness about clean and healthy neighborhoods which must be a part of design development. The design of spaces in the urban and rural level must prioritize green open pockets like parks and gardens, along with water bodies that can act as a buffer within heavy build masses.
Additionally, 3D printing and artificial intelligence technologies are key supporters during a pandemic. Firms based in the US such as BIG, KPF, and Handel Architects have got together on an open-source project to build face shields witnessing lack of sufficient protective gear. Similarly, in India Ar. Badrinath Kaleru of Studio Ardete stepped in to help build face shields knowing the storage of supplies. In these times, technologies built through artificial intelligence have been beneficial where deploying robotic machines to screen individuals at medical facilities and avoid contact with an infected person has prevented the spread of viruses effectively.
This experience fighting the pandemic has brought actual issues and flaws in our understanding and also given us an opportunity for corrections. It has damaged the society in various ways, but also helped experts think out of the box and build effective tools to prevent and fight any such pandemics. As for architects and planners, it is a milestone to rectify, alter, and strategize designing of the buildings and environments by creating healthy, livable, and socially friendly zones.