How is social distancing affecting architecture?

In recent years, architectural design has revolved around people interacting with two main built environments – where we live and where we work. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, these two locations have become one and the same for many people.

Remaining at the required six feet or more from one another has proved the most effective defence against the virus and now, as communities consider emerging from lockdown, they are looking for new approaches to live and work safely.

From citywide campaigns, to innovative new designs, architects are using their skills to create solutions that keep this cautious proximity in focus.

Drawing up post-pandemic plans

International architects Weston Williamson + Partners is preparing for its staff to return and has drawn up plans for a workplace where social distancing can be effectively maintained. From clear screens between desks to introducing hands-free door opening, many new inclusions are planned for the studio’s London office. The firm also plans to hire baristas to make coffee for employees and has even assessed how employees will travel to work. All of the studio’s social distancing plans have been illustrated in well-drawn graphics released online as useful reference for other enterprises.

Founding partner Chris Williamson commented:

“It will depend on the layout of each office, but the drawings we have prepared show what we intend to do at Weston Williamson + Partners and we think they could be useful to other offices.”

A call to creatives

Following eight weeks of enforced lockdown, Italy’s design capital, Milan, is starting to reopen, and city leaders are looking to architects and other creatives to help. Designers and architects have been asked to create devices to enable social distancing allowing the commercial hub of Milan to kick start safely. From spacers and signage to new indoor and outdoor layouts many institutions, organisations, companies and freelancers have answered the call for help.

City commerce councillor Cristina Tajani said:

“We need the imagination of designers, architects and creatives to find solutions capable of reconciling security and social distancing with needs for socialising and conviviality of people and for the use of shops and services.”

Social distancing considerations for future planning

In London, local borough councils are working with city architects to rethink street and road designs to allow for appropriate social distancing while other architectural firms around the country are drawing up alternative options for supermarkets and hotels.

Social distancing has been made easier by technology and architects are taking this into account when creating new designs. UK architects the Manser Practice is designing “self-contained isolation hotel rooms” complete with built-in gyms where guests check in via online applications without requiring the traditional meet and greet contact of reception staff.

From adapting existing workplaces to safeguarding citizens in community centres, social distancing will now become an essential consideration of any new building scheme. At the early design stages of any prospective project, architects around the world will now be incorporating social distancing measures into their plans to provide a risk-free approach to living and working.

Posted by Mark
June 3, 2020

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