Most of America and Europe saw the spread of tuberculosis in the 19th and 20th centuries. The disease had become a big issue and the hospitals had to become more efficient. This is when architects came up with new hospital designs for buildings. Hospitals got quiet, soothing colors painted for the increasing number of patients. To bring in enough sunlight towards feet (as a treatment measure) and lighten up the room, plain and large windows were employed. The bare, wide floors ran through hospitals to keep premises as neat as possible. Sounds familiar? Yes, these are typically the features of modern architecture that evolved due to the disease spread. And here we are, with Covid-19 taking down the world’s activities. Till the introduction of vaccines against this deadly virus, we need to turn to architectural measures. We need to think of this, as a new design problem, to get creative solutions, which may evolve into a new style. 

1. Reallocation of the population

Urban density has always been a problem due to the increasing population. People turn to cities for job densities and the inefficient urban plans can’t accommodate them, sometimes leading to the formation of slums. Now as the pandemic has struck, about 50% of people have either been called for fewer days at work or advice to work from home. Many people can’t afford the rent and other expenditures in cities, thus this is the right time for architects to develop infrastructure in suburbs and smaller towns, as people will now be ready to move to their calm home-towns, from where they could conveniently work-from-home.

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2. Decreasing density in a building

To avoid the spread, people have been advised to practice social distancing. Now due to the increasing population, more and more high-rise buildings are promoted. But this increases the chances of contact of people in the building in form of common entry and exits, lifts, and stairs, etc. to avoid this, the buildings should have multiple entrances with a lesser number of apartments. Also, smaller individual houses with individual courtyards and balconies should be promoted. Offices practice this by calling employees alternate days, and schools moving online. 

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3. Converting less-used infrastructure into hospitals

This is already in practice. With an increased number of patients, more beds and isolation rooms are required. Public spaces like malls and hotels were shut down in many countries. These large spaces were used for patient beds, for example, the Iran mall in Tehran. The empty rail coaches were converted to isolation wards by Indian railways. Hotel rooms and student hostels were used as Intensive Care Units and quarantine centers. 

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4. Separation of spaces in homes too 

Though it’s your family, avoiding physical contact would be best. Thus the interiors should be divided by walls as much as possible. The general living-dining flow should be broken. There should be a separate entrance lobby to remove footwear and do preliminary sanitization. This would also help with privacy, as everyone would be having online meetings or classes. The introduction of DIY-creative work-from-home corners don’t only help in efficiency, but also liven up the mood in this gloomy situation.

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5. Workspaces and schools

Other than homes, these are the places heavily used. These places could decrease their densities by moving their people out in the open. Courtyards could be used for regular learning, and conferences could be moved to balconies. The 6-feet office design strategy by Cushman and Wakefield Company shows how workplaces could function with all the social distancing measures.

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6. Garage in basements

The nature is rapidly taking revenge for what we have done to it over the years. Due to climate change, such disasters are no more surprises. Thus, we can always prepare ourselves to be safe from such situations and calamities. An underground escape with a small pantry would always be useful. We should also try to store mechanical and power supplies in our homes, to avoid calling outside help and be as self-sufficient as possible. 

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7. Outdoor social distancing measures

The parks, plazas, railway stations, and other essential public places should be designed well to maintain distance from others. Clever landscaping and seating should be taken into account to make several smaller units. Design solutions like hats with pool noodles are extensively being used by cafes and restaurants. More removable outdoor furniture should be used. England recently saw its first social-distancing concert.

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8. Redistribution of spaces

People generally gather in a large number in parks, cafes, supermarkets, medical stores, malls, etc. This is as 5-6 neighborhoods share these common public spaces. This number should be reduced to a maximum of 1 or 2. This will lead to less crowding of people, and they will also get these facilities nearer to their houses. 

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Small design reforms are being applied, but this isn’t enough. We need these measures to adapt our built environment to this ‘new normal’.  

Priya Sangani
Author

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