Architecture is shaped by innovations and design; it needs to constantly evolve with the ever-changing dynamics and needs of the people. With the onset of Covid-19, a disease that has affected almost every part of the world, the term ‘normal’ has been to be redefined. From public spaces becoming desolate to people spending a majority of their time at home, from collapsing of healthcare infrastructure to use of public transport facilities becoming risky since social distancing became a norm, the architecture of the built environment needs to be looked at with a new perspective and re-thought about in the face of new challenges and shortcomings brought about with the pandemic.
The best hope for preventing and curbing the spread of the virus is through restricting movement and maintaining a safe distance from each other, what will happen to our buildings, our public spaces, that celebrate the virtue of social interaction and freedom. Urban life is characterized by social energy and fluidity where mixed, multigenerational communities co-exist together, and not in isolation.
The socio-economic gap and inequitable distribution of spaces in cities are now more evident than ever. How will cities respond to this rising inequity and social issues? What does the city post-pandemic look like? How will it affect the architecture of these spaces?
People being stuck in their homes has led to isolation and monotonous lifestyles. Humans are social beings and need constant interaction to survive. This challenges our public spaces to think of newer ways to restrict the spread of the virus while simultaneously providing means for social interaction.
Cities across the world have completely pedestrianized streets and roads to provide additional space for people to maintain a safe distance. Cities like Florida, Ohio have opened their sidewalks to struggling restaurants thus encouraging people to step out while following the social distancing protocol. These solutions are not revolutionary but showcase hope for the future of architecture of public spaces where permanence is no longer the only way to tackle architectural problems.
As the best solution to curb the spread of the virus, major cities across the world went into complete lockdown, restricting people to their respective homes for several months, this imposed serious risk amongst marginalized communities living in dense slums, with around 8-10 people sharing one room without proper access to basic facilities such as food and drinking water.
Apart from this, the sudden spike in the number of cases put immense pressure on health care facilities, which were overcrowded with patients but at the same time, public buildings such as malls, colleges, stadiums, exhibition centres, temples were desolate. These desolate buildings can be utilized as quarantine centres, temporary hospitals, shelter for the homeless and so on, these solutions were adopted and consciously implemented across various places. Thus, the future of cities holds opportunities for make-shift buildings that adapt to the changing needs of the people.
With public transport being limited to less than half its capacity and social distancing being a norm, use of public transport as means to travel is risky, leading to an increase in the number of people using private vehicles to their work which has further led to the deterioration of air quality.
The concept of walkable cities is not exactly new where everything that one needs to access, is within walking distance, where pedestrians and cyclists are given a priority in the street layout; but the pandemic has forced us to rethink the work-to-home travel where using an automobile is merely a choice, not a necessity. Thus, architecture in the future needs to accommodate walkable neighbourhoods that prioritize health and safety.
The idea of resilience has long been discussed in the complex discourse of climate change but the pandemic has further accelerated the need to adopt resiliency at urban levels. The Covid-19 crisis has brought light to the crisis of climate change as well as the economic crisis where one cannot be addressed without considering the other two, leaving our built environments vulnerable.
Thus, the need for the future is decentralized, self-sufficient neighbourhoods, which bring forth resilience, given the disruption of one, would not hinder the functioning of others, thus making the overall framework of the city stronger and more effective.
Although the pandemic is not permanent and its effect will eventually wear off with time, the problems it has highlighted question the whole aspect of the design of our built environment and the way we utilize it. It’s time to pause and introspect the future of our buildings and cities, to be prepared for possible unexpected situations in the future, to respond and be able to adapt quickly thus making our built environment resilient in the face of disruptions.