Making Lasting Change: Design Lessons From Social Distancing

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As we continue our social distancing efforts over the weeks ahead and look forward to a return to a new normal, the MAKE Architects team has been discussing what lessons can we all take from this experience and how we will incorporate these lessons into our daily lives. There is no question that we are living through unprecedented times, please excuse this overused term, and we will all be forever changed from this experience. What do you think are the critical lessons we should all learn from to effect positive change in our lives?


Here are our thoughts:


Kristina Hebert, MAKE Project Manager


With the revolutionizing of remote work due to the current pandemic, commercial spaces are and will continue to be transformed. Physical square footage is no longer prioritized and technology reigns in day-to-day company functions. Though many companies will not transition to an entirely virtual existence, the decline of the pandemic may see a higher ratio of employees working remotely versus in a company office space.


Commercial projects as a result may include more flexible working spaces, which will increase the efficiency of a workspace with a smaller amount of square footage and will also increase the amount of technology within these spaces. Any designer can hope that this will lead to companies that are willing to invest in more sustainable envelopes, mechanical, lighting, and control systems since a much smaller footprint can be used to serve these companies’ needs.


Chris Kennedy, Principal


One lesson we should all learn from the pandemic and social distancing is that delayed action has costly impacts. This lesson needs to be applied to the concerns about climate change as well as future pandemics. We need to consider a wide range of questions and how to design their solutions.


For example, how does the built environment contribute to the spread of disease and how can the built environment mitigate the spread of disease? Will we begin to specify antimicrobial surfaces and handles for door hardware, handrails, plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc? Will more devices become touch free like many public restrooms are now?


Will we begin to specify more filtration in our indoor air systems? Will hand sanitizer dispensers be available at all building entrances? Will building entrances monitor the body temperature of people passing through them? Will airlines take more time between flights to actually clean the passenger cabins? Will we adapt our diets to consume foods that improve the immune system?


Some important considerations for residential design include rethinking the importance of home offices. Will they move out of closets, basements and “left-over” spaces to become a featured space?  Will accessory buildings with home offices become a “must have”? Will fast internet access finally arrive in rural areas?


Sloane Mayor, Principal


We are spending a ton of time now in our homes, our place of safety, connectedness and intimacy. During this period of prolonged sheltering in place, we are internalizing the importance of our home environment and its impact on our minds and bodies.


From our homes, we are seeing the world evolve through this pandemic and watching the winter turn to spring.  How are our homes filtering this information for us? We are taking a hard look at how our spaces are serving us and whether they get high marks for resiliency, such as:


  • Are there spaces for private moments for everyone?

  • Is there adequate light and views during the day?

  • Can we work remotely and productively?

  • Is there adequate storage space to make it easier to keep neat and clean?

  • Is it thermally comfortable and ventilated?


This forced isolation will create awareness; we will hear about how important buildings are to our wellbeing from future clients.


Neha Garg, Intern


Our current situation has highlighted a new relationship with domestic space. The most fortunate of us have only to make minor adjustments to our kitchen and office spaces for working. Many others are forced to remain in densely packed apartment buildings with shared elevators and other common spaces.


This pandemic has further revealed an inconsistency in who is actually able to adapt to the “work from home” lifestyle, and how our living spaces directly correlate with our ability to protect ourselves.

Rebecca Gordon, Architect


People are now interacting mostly via the internet so everyone needs a home theater space with a desk, a pleasing background and sound privacy. Overly tech-immersed people will need a space where they can get away from the technology, and with food likely to be rationed, every household should have indoor growing spaces.


Courtyards and plant rooms would serve to reconnect people with flora, sun, and soil while allowing them to have a nature bath. Other potential new types of spaces would be “safe” sharing and receiving rooms with furniture and acoustics that support people greeting each other from behind a window then potentially occupying the same airspace from a distance of 6′ apart.


Nesreen Itani, Project Manager


As architects, we support people from all economical levels, from people who own single family homes and also those who live in condos and apartments. We consider solutions on a community and town level. It’s imperative that design solutions are easy to implement and take social distancing into consideration. One way that we are doing this right now is by taking advantage of available technology to meet virtually with and listen to families’ needs.


From a personal experience, families with both parents working full time, while supporting their little kids in homeschooling, really need spaces to work and be able to support their little ones at the same time. This is especially important when everyone needs to be on their virtual meetings and speaking at the same time.


What are the changes that you would like to see? What have you learned from living through a pandemic that you think should inform how we inhabit our homes and environment from now on? We are really not sure what lasting changes will happen, but we know that the future will only be bright if we are all in this together.


Thank you to Make Architects for sharing this article with Plan NH! View the original post here.