As the entire world stood on the brink of 2019, looking eagerly onto the coming year and its surfeit of possibilities and opportunities, nobody’s foresight could predict an entire shift of lifestyle that was to be brought in by 2020. The global race for economy and luxury continued until an unprecedented pandemic brought the cogs to an abrupt halt. As the people scurried to the indoors, quarantined and careful for the most part, the medical community as well many other faculties of governance started brainstorming about the ways to impede and eliminate the effects of Covid-19.
Mapping the global spread of the virus and its contact-based transmission, an inescapable problem arose. Cities and towns had not been planned and designed to withstand airborne diseases. The increasing population and its subsequent demands had made the world dense with very little affordability for social distancing as needed to counter the pandemic. But the people cannot be made to stay indoors perpetually. Urban Planners hence, had an important task at hand- Recalibrate the fundamentals of Urban Planning, keeping in mind the recent widespread of the virus.
This introspection of design and planning not only at a macro level but also at the residential level had to cater to any such similar occurrences in the future. Designers had to give a hard look at existing lifestyles and design of the cities. How does one retrofit a city to provide the same experience to a resident in the post-pandemic world as it did before people vacated the public spaces due to the virus?
Planners have pondered and deliberated on the issue, coming up with a variety of solutions to assist in the smooth functioning of cities and towns. Funneling down from a large scale city or town plan to the spaces inside an individual house or a shop, designers have put forth alternatives to battle the pandemic.
When in an urban scenario, the main response to a contact-based disease is to enable social distancing. With the onset of Covid-19, people in cities prefer walking or bicycling for essentials. But as time goes by and the cities gradually start reopening, private vehicles will surpass the usage of public transportation. The use of public transport has been brought down to an infinitesimal amount due to its potential for virus transmission. The sartorial spectrum of the public has now embraced face masks. So how does one address these sudden changes in urban behavior?
Harm Timmermans of Shift Architecture Urbanism based in the Netherlands had an epiphany of sorts when visiting a market in Rotterdam. He came up with the idea of a Pandemic-friendly Hyperlocal Micro-Market. Markets being one of the superior public spaces since the beginning of urban living, they are probably the weakest congregational spaces in the fight against the virus. Maintaining social distancing in a market is as difficult as nailing Jello to a tree. To resolve this, Timmermans proposed a 16-grid market that can be easily set up in various public squares to make products and supplies easily accessible to the surrounding neighborhoods. This would ensure a small local market where enforcing social distancing becomes less challenging. It also reduces commute time for the residents to avail of their daily necessities.
But when an extremely dense market and years of habitual usage make it difficult to implement this design, especially in a place like Mumbai, a different approach needs to be sought. Bandra Collective, a collaborative practice dedicated to improving the public spaces in Bandra, Mumbai, came up with a design to tackle this issue for a market street. With 6ft radius circles painted on the street and sanitization stations located at regular intervals, the designers have enabled segregation of user movements to ensure minimal contact at safe distances for shoppers.
Studio Precht reimagined public parks as a response to the pandemic by asking a few simple questions.
“What would a park look like and how would it function if it takes the rules of social distancing as a design guideline? And what can we learn from a space like this that still has value after the pandemic?”
The resultant design takes the form of a maze, each pathway divided by high hedges. Inspired by French Baroque and Japanese Zen Gardens, this park creates social isolation while letting people enjoy the outdoors. It also creates a characteristic park design that can be replicated in any open space available anywhere in the world.
Many other Urban Planners are looking towards a 15-minute city design where all essential services can be reached within 15 minutes of traveling, including healthcare. Some designers are re-thinking outdoor seating and infrastructure to complement social distancing. Concert venues have innovatively designed seating clusters to reduce the throngs that are so characteristic of these events. With most people working from home due to lockdown, designers are also focusing on restructuring the planning of a house, with more convenient home-offices and larger storerooms for living essentials.
Although the design of residential spaces for a post-pandemic world has not yet successfully addressed the lower economic groups of the society entirely, Planners and architects are working towards it gradually. The world is still in an experimental state of changing fundamentals that seemed to be set in stone. But needless to say, everyone understands the wisdom in the age-old phrase- Health is Wealth indeed. The pre-pandemic world cannot be brought back to existence and everyone knows it.