The COVID-19 outbreak has had a major impact on how we view our world. It has caused us to reconsider the ways we interact with one another, the ways we spend our days, and the actions we take to ensure that we are healthy.
Even if the virus were to somehow disappear over the course of the next year, its impact is something that cannot be reversed. In some cases, the outbreak has simply accelerated already existing trends—for example, even before the outbreak, people across the world had already begun working from home much more consistently. In other cases, the changes sparked by the outbreak have been completely novel.
Both residential and commercial architecture have been significantly influenced by the outbreak. Architecture, as a well-defined practice, affects almost every aspect of our lives. Every decision an architect makes—from the materials they work with, to the floor plans they design, to everything else in between—can influence the ways our lives are lived.
As long as the spaces being created by architects are designed for human use, then the needs of human beings cannot be overlooked. When correctly utilized, architecture can make or our lives safer, healthier, and happier. In this article, we will discuss 7 ways that architecture and public health are related, and we also discuss how the COVID-19 outbreak has changed the ways today’s best residential and commercial architects design new spaces.
1. Blending of Work and Living Spaces
One of the most notable changes caused by COVID-19 was the intense acceleration of an already existing trend of working from home. According to Global Workplace Analytics, “We estimate that 56 percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work.” Following the issuing of stay-at-home orders across the United States, many people found themselves suddenly needing a living space that was also a working space. In response, architects have been finding ways to blend these needs, such as creating larger home offices, creating rooms with more flexibility, and incorporating other features, such as direct-to-office entryways.
2. Open Floor Plans
The open floor plan has been stylistically popular since the rise of mid-century modernism, but in addition to its aesthetic and practical appeal, open floor plans also serve a distinct public health purpose. Open floor plans can help combat the concentration of contaminants, including viruses. These floor plans also make it easier for larger groups of people to keep an appropriate distance from one another. While adding an open floor plan cannot guarantee the stop of any virus spreading, it can still be very beneficial.
3. Emphasis on Air Flow
Architects need to have a thorough understanding of many different in-building systems, including plumbing, electricity, and airflow. When air flows in a closed circuit, the effects of any present contaminants will worsen over time. There are many things architects can do to increase airflow in a given space. Adding additional windows, balconies, and other naturally ventilating features will help reduce the amount of air that is “trapped” in a given space for very long. Open circuit air conditioning systems, fans, and partial walls can also make an important difference.
4. Hybrid Indoor-Outdoor Spaces
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has caused many people to limit the amount of time they spend congregated indoors. As a result, an increased emphasis on blending indoor-outdoor spaces is something that is far from surprising. Sun decks, gazebos, convertible patios, and floor-to-ceiling windows are just a few of the features that help make the distinction between indoors and outdoors a bit smaller. The implementation of these “blended” features was already a widespread trend, but the potential health benefits these features can provide should not be overlooked.
5. Personal Space
There are few things it seems we can never have too much of and, without a doubt, personal space is one of them. The presence of personal space has long been deeply dependent on the choices being made by architects. Open floor plans, wider rooms, higher ceilings, and informally controlled gathering spaces (through the use of walls, décor, etc.) can help an otherwise cramped space become a bit more breathable. Furthermore, within the office architectural space, there has been a major movement away from yesteryear’s “cubical model” and towards a hierarchy-free teamwork area.
6. Ease of Cleaning
Pretty much every type of living of working space will look clean the day it’s installed—the question that remains is whether it be able to maintain this cleanliness over time. In the interest of public health, architects often find themselves actively considering the dynamics of future cleaning efforts. Replacing surfaces that are difficult to clean (such as carpet) with surfaces that are easier to clean (such as linoleum) can help reduce the spread of germs and also lower cleaning costs. Incorporating easy-to-clean features is especially important for spaces that regularly welcome the public (storefronts, schools, hospitals, etc.).
7. A Gentle Touch
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, it has been well-known that many different viruses and diseases can be spread through surface contacts. Consequently, the need for architects to limit exposure to common surface touches is something that was seemingly inevitable. Automatic doors or foot-operated doors (especially in bathrooms) help reduce the need for incorporating doorways that have been touched by dozens, or even hundreds, of different people per day. Furthermore, the advancement of smart technologies has helped reduce the need for these sorts of common touches even further. Voice-activated devices, touchless payment options, and automated lights have all helped minimize the risk of spreading germs. In this sense, smart tech becomes more than just a matter of convenience—it becomes a matter of public health.
Being an architect is a role that is truly comprehensive. When an architect is designing a given space, it will be up to them to not only consider how this space will look but to also consider how this space will actually be lived in. Because of this unavoidable reality—and because of how intensely the health of the public affects our lives—it is clear that architecture and public health will always remain interconnected.