The COVID 19 pandemic has shattered the entire world, in all terms. The environment is down, the economy is crashing and the lives of people are disrupted beyond immediate repair. Significant and long-lasting repercussions will be felt across society and industry, many of which are sure to influence the way we approach the design of our buildings and cities. We cannot comprehend something that we are not used to or have not experienced ever in life. In this case, even our immediate earlier generations have not experienced such a thing in their lifetime.

Life is affected directly, and so is the architecture surrounding it. Social distancing has become necessary in day to day life. A term that never existed for us, has started ruling our daily lives. Especially in a country like ours, in India, where densities are spread across like nowhere in the world, it virtually becomes impossible to practice things like social distancing, and the fear of the disease spreading increases manifold.

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Cholera in London ©www.archdaily.com

Architecture has always shaped the society that we are a part of or has at least defined it in some ways. It has played a major role in developing our lifestyles since the human settlement began along the banks of rivers. It has been almost like a shadow to man and has always been protected and shield from adverse weather conditions, wilderness, wild animals, etc. With time, architecture has evolved a lot, and technology has been a catalyst in doing so.

Urban design has always played a vital role in developing a sense of lifestyle in society. It has given a direction to people, which otherwise would have been chaos, and it has given scope for our society to grow as humans. Urban design has taught us to socialize, to celebrate, to mourn, to retaliate, to support, to gather, to play, etc. It is the reason our cities have spaces for us to do all of those activities. It is the medium that has allowed our lives to be more humane and interactive, to be humans, and to be a society.

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Modes of transport ©Amit Devale
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Housing clusters ©Amit Devale

The COVID19 pandemic has not only shattered lives across the globe but has rendered the place with a sense of fear. Unfortunately, it will change our lives, our living standards, and the architecture around us. It has brought in new concepts and ways of life that we are new to and will find difficulty in getting used to. Social distancing, use of a face mask in our daily lives, etc.

Traveling within the country or outside has become a different ball game altogether. Extra precautions have to be taken by every individual to avoid any spread further. Flights have started working, but they are strictly asked to keep the middle seats empty, so they have to fly with less number of passengers. It’s a difficult call, but mandatory for the greater good. Trains are a different level mess, even though they have pretty lately resumed services. People have been restricted from stepping out of their homes, but it seems a long shot in our country. Negligence on following precautions and safety measures is going to take this to another level of a mess, beyond repair.

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Social distancing at public spaces ©Amit Devale
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Places of worship ©Amit Devale

Social distancing is going to bring in a lot of behavioral and lifestyle changes. It will directly reflect on the building construction regulations and guidelines. The selection of places will change depending on the crowd likely to visit, inversely. People might not want to visit crowded places now, which means travel attractions across the world will see a drastic drop in the tourist population. They would be wanting to visit more secluded and isolated places at least for a while now. The travel, the accommodation, eateries, common gathering spaces, entertainment places like malls, theatres, playgrounds, etc. will be avoided by many. Parents will not let their kids out unless it’s urgent. The old and elderly will prefer staying indoors to avoid any unnecessary trouble. Work from home is becoming a new normal, and people are preferring it than stepping out for work. As the response to the pandemic now enters its next stage, we are exploring how we can harness this crisis to bring about positive change in cities.

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Eateries ©Amit Devale
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Air travel ©Amit Devale
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Social distancing at transportation hubs ©Amit Devale

Thus comes into the picture of our public places, places of worship, places of work, places for entertainment, eating joints, etc. By having to stay indoors, all these places are deserted with no soul to use. If this continues, soon these places might turn into illegal and anti-social activity hotspots. If not that, they are likely to turn into unsafe places for all in society. Practicing social distancing within the built environment means designing it accordingly considering the new spatial requirements. The architecture will have a new definition and a new face. Understanding this new language and documenting it for further analysis and study will be crucial and mandatory. We don’t want to repeat any mistakes in the future.

While a minuscule percentage of us have the luxury to sit within the comforts of our houses and continue with work, many of our fellows aren’t lucky to even be able to stay back home to keep themselves safe. The doctors, nurses, policemen, government servicemen, site workers, delivery guys, etc. are at the maximum risk of getting affected.

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Hotspots ©Amit Devale
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Marketplaces ©Amit Devale
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Warriors ©Amit Devale

Hotspots like slums and other dense housing clusters need to be decongested. The hygiene factor needs to be hammered and ungrained in every citizen. Awareness for basic self-hygiene and cleanliness needs to be spread across efficiently. Houses and working environments need to consider these factors and respond accordingly. Places of entertainment, shopping, eating, and other recreational activities need to accommodate the new practices that are mandatory as safety measures.

Festive occasions ©images.app.goo.gl

This pandemic has messed up with every single element in our life. We cannot shut it off completely, but we can do our best to not let it affect our lives much. Practices like social distancing, wearing a face mask whenever out in public, washing hands adequately and properly during the day, epically after coming home from out, avoid touching things at public spaces, avoid spitting in public, etc. are going to be normal and we need to let them in our daily lives, they are the only medium we have now to fight against this. If we want to make a better tomorrow, we need to stay safe today, and these practices will help us with that. Our built environment is one of the strongest and safest barriers between us and the disease, so we need to use it to our best and henceforth try to make our buildings more resilient against such spreads.

Amit Devale
Author

An architect from Bombay, after graduation, he further studied Sustainable Architecture. Since then, he has been associated with a research organisation, working on urban development policies of Mumbai, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI). Here, he has worked on projects that have strengthened his knowledge about the city. He is inclined towards researching public transportation alternatives, policies and infrastructure for pedestrians in cities, affordable housing, urban recreational spaces and non-conventional construction techniques.

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