The Covid-19 pandemic took the world by a shock and in only a few months almost every aspect of life changed. Each one of us began to utilize resources optimally and reduced the needs to a bare minimum. With most countries implementing preventive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, the important one of all the measures have been social-distancing.
This measure has made offices to re-organize their work patterns and rethink design infrastructure and living spaces. Apart from that, the economic slowdown faced worldwide also impacted a lot of firms. However, now with gradual relaxations over the measures, it is still not clear what and how much will be Covid-19’s impact on landscape architecture. The following article discusses how the pandemic affected the profession of landscape architecture until now and what could be the way forward from this life-changing situation.
The social distancing measure has revolutionized the concept of work from home and has made offices to embrace the digital realm like never before. Almost every office continues to function daily over various media platforms, especially via video-conferencing. While it had been easier for large offices and other firms with multiple offices set across different locations to convert into a completely digital platform, it had been a challenge for some offices to figure out and set up a system that would work best for their offices and design team. The profession showcases its adaptability and flexibility by implementing the technology, adopting new software and interactive platforms such that their design process, consultations, meetings, presentations, and communication are maintained without disruption. However, Landscape design requires an on-field presence, and reaching to sites and commuting in lockdowns and travel restrictions have posed a great challenge in carrying out necessary work. While some offices have to remain closed due to lack of support staff and technical team, some offices, on the other hand, have sought this time to improve their client relationships by staying in touch and understanding their needs in this situation. With more time on hand, offices are revisiting a lot of design decisions to suit the current situations.
The pandemic has seen a slowdown in the construction part of the projects due to various reasons like unavailability of labor, equipment or products, and the overall economic hit. There has been a shift in the project types where some projects are being put on hold and some are requiring brainstorming sessions to figure out new logistics just to carry on the projects. The issues of delayed payments have also affected the industry to a certain extent. The global supply chains of materials due to travel restrictions have also encouraged firms to find newer and local markets. There is also an up-gradation in the construction technology that is seen as firms adopt newer tools like site-monitoring drones or robotic delivery that would decrease the dependency of laborers on the site. Virtual tours and experiences have become the new norm. The digital age has opened the avenues for firms to undergo a design discourse and participate in new design competitions. This has encouraged offices to push and challenge their boundaries and think out of the box. Many offices are also seeing this time as an opportunity to upgrade their skills by enrolling in new online courses. The online platform has opened a wide and flexible way of imparting and sharing knowledge/experience and the beneficiaries are the entire fraternity from students to collaborators who wish to learn and know more about the subject and the profession. Offices are conducting discussions and debates over webinars to share knowledge and possibly figure out new solutions and approaches to be taken in this pandemic. The online platform has become an affordable solution for all including the audience and the speakers helping the fraternity to enhance their knowledge and this can be perceived as a silver lining in such an unfortunate time.
The lessons we learn from this pandemic will have a deep impact on the future of design, cities, public spaces, and infrastructure. It will change the office’s view of conventional practices and would call for a newer design approach. In terms of technology, we might see a lot of upgradations from traditional tools and equipment to better sophisticated and modern machines that would be doing all the analysis on just a click.
However, one thing that may have to go back to what it had been the previous pandemic, would be the physical engagement with the site and nature. The knowledge gained for the effective setting of the site, understanding of the contours, water bodies, greenery and overall planning of open spaces; in such a manner that the closed spaces become more meaningful and the relation between open and closed, out and in, built and unbuilt, is enhanced requires the physical presence on the site.
It has not been easy for offices to continue work from home for a long time as it requires working in isolation and discussions/meetings in person have a very different impact over design than over digital media. There is no one to pat backs for the wonderful idea or criticize the poor design/works. The program of Landscape Design is a holistic and integrated program with inputs from many professionals like Architects, hydrologists, geologists, horticulturists, irrigation experts, lighting experts, civil and structural engineers, fabricators, maintenance teams, etc. This team of people frequently keep meeting and only through various brainstorming sessions come out with realistic and functional solutions. In the absence of these regular debates, arguments, and interactions; the whole essence of effective landscape design, development, and maintenance is being affected.
There are worries and anxiousness related to how things will unfold over the pandemic. Landscape Architecture offices are hoping for a better response from the government to invest in public works and public infrastructure with the idea of going local, doing more with less, and accommodating a variety of bigger spaces that act as urban retreats or parks and natural spaces around cities. One of the key realizations brought by this pandemic to everyone was of ‘Sustainability’- the basis and the core of landscape design. It has reinforced the value of community, local neighborhoods, green spaces, and natural systems close to home as everyone wants to get out of their closed walls and connect to nature and just get some fresh air. People are now more aware of their health. They are understanding the benefits of plantation and the importance of greenery and are aspiring to have their own herbal/kitchen gardens. The “Me’ time spent during lockdown/at home has enabled people to relook upon their life-style and find happiness in connection with nature. There has been a surge in demand for house-plants from the local nurseries claiming that people can easily grow at home. This discourse in the activity and perception is good news for landscape architects to come up with new ideas of connecting people to nature in high-density environments. The future of intelligent landscape architecture is here now waiting for its potential to be discovered.
Special Credit –
Prof. Shweta R. Suhane – Landscape Architect- Assistant Professor – Institute of Architecture & Planning, Nirma University
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