Since early 2020, most facets of society had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in some capacity. The experience of living through the pandemic has changed many of us as individuals, influenced how we socialized, impacted how we do our work, and caused widespread change in many industries. Major pandemics have historically resulted in architectural change. This article will explore some of the impacts of the pandemic on architecture, and construction.
Architecture And Design
Design reflects the concerns of the time. What is going on in our lives changes what we want and need from the buildings we live and work in. Kyle Chayka predicted how architecture will change due to the pandemic in the New Yorker, just months after the pandemic began. He pointed out the influence of tuberculosis on modernist architecture. In the 1930s, features such as large windows, the position of lighting, empty white walls, bare floors, and clean metal fixtures, all reflected a fear of disease and a preference for surfaces that could be easily cleaned. In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines kept many of us in our homes.
While tuberculosis had inspired designs of clean modernism, the same open, clean, and bare spaces no longer worked for us during quarantine. We built barriers for social distancing, taped lines, and plexiglass to separate us from the threats of illness. As we move forward, we are likely to see a shift from open concept design to design that accommodates privacy and personal space.
For those of us lucky enough to work from the comfort of our homes, we became more aware of the designs we live in. Spending all of our time in our own spaces caused many of us to evaluate the space we live and work in. With families with children attending virtual school, parents in online meetings, and the need for quiet places for concentration, a lack of privacy in our homes became a limiting factor in how effectively we could spend our work and study time. Updated designs began to lean toward enabling separation of spaces rather than an open concept flowing space. The minimalism that has dominated for years began to feel barren and empty to some of us confronting our bare walls and spaces day after day. We need personal spaces that are enriching, facilitate virtual connection, and provide us comfort. Many of our homes have changed over the last two years, and it is unlikely that change will completely reverse.
Social distancing forced changes in our shared spaces and spurred innovations to enable us to recognize when we were appropriately spaced. Open offices have fallen out of favor.
Dense populations, such as that found in New York City, have been a large factor in the spread of Coronavirus cases, particularly early in the pandemic. As discussed in VIP Structures, there is an expectation that future urban planning should focus on alleviating population density, and designing smaller venues and lower capacity rooms to facilitate social distancing.
AEC Community And The Future
COVID-19 caused the delay and even cancellation of construction projects early in the pandemic. The economic uncertainty was felt by architects until construction activity picked back up and demand exploded. Now the immediate future presents challenges for the construction industry. The labor market has changed over the last couple of years and there is a shortage of some skilled tradespeople on job sites, combined with a shortage of materials like lumber. This shortage has caused a huge increase in the cost of lumber. This not only impacts purchasing and budgets but also areas like security. The more valuable the materials on a construction site, the more security procedures need to be in place to safeguard materials.
As discussed in Common Edge, many of the changes we have seen during the pandemic started before but gained momentum. Remote work was a viable option because some of us have been working remotely for years, and software and spaces already existed to make this possible. The impetus for improving remote work became apparent as soon as lockdowns began. The culture of architecture has shifted because of digital technology. Architects are connecting with each other rather than seeking architectural establishments for direction. The future may see office buildings turn into mixed-use structures as demand for office space lessens. Architects and designers will be empowered by the ability to share designs and data with the architectural community. Conversations are spurring change and this may shift the designs around us.
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