Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Building Design

What We're Seeing Now:

As economies start reopening, there are very few guidelines for how businesses can provide service while maintaining social distance and combatting transmission. This is affecting small businesses to a greater degree. MASS Architects released a comprehensive guide for how restaurants can reconfigure their existing spaces to minimize contact and protect employees and customers who are at greater risk. Restaurants are also coming up with their own creative modifications to maximize revenue with reduced capacity, like al fresco dining in streets and parking lots, as well as more radical solutions like personal greenhouses. Some criticize these street proposals for prioritizing wealthier businesses over existing street vendors and further privatizing public space, while harming the essential workers that still rely on the street to commute. These plans need to be thoughtful, equitable, and planned with the community.

With larger class sizes and lower budgets, especially in lower income areas, schools will have a hard time adapting to social distance protocols. One proposal in the UK suggests utilizing carnival tents to create social distanced classrooms and facilities:  

Stay-at-home orders are renewing people’s appreciation for their home spaces, for those fortunate enough to have a home or jobs that allow them to stay there. Disparities between neighborhoods like access to green space and groceries have been further widened. The houseless population could increase by 45% according to a Columbia University economist, straining existing resources and diminished shelter capacity, and cities like Portland and San Francisco are creating sanctioned tent cities to improve sanitation. 

Potential Long-Term Impacts and Questions:

Architects, urban designers, and planners will face unprecedented challenges and opportunities in adapting cities and spaces in a post-pandemic world. COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses in our built environment and inspired a range of responses for temporary structures, adaptive reuse, social distancing, and even equipment fabrication. How might these responses change the industry for better or for worse?

While designers and code officials will need to rethink the design of small spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms and elevators, some think we will largely return to normal work life after the pandemic. Contactless fixtures, better water closets, sanitizing stations, and larger workspaces have all been proposed as modifications.  

The pandemic is requiring interdisciplinary collaboration as architects and planners work with healthcare and government officials to aid in the response. The demand for additional healthcare space has seen a range of building adaptations, from convention centers to parking garages. The economic crisis will also leave many commercial spaces vacant. Adaptive reuse of existing buildings will likely see a rise with the economic recovery:  

With the world at a standstill, we need to rethink our built environment and the role it has played in perpetuating racial inequities in order make lasting changes. Many are calling for deep and impactful changes to cities to address the long-standing issues of equity and sustainability, while economies start reopening. People are pausing and taking a deeper look at their local environment, noticing these disparities even more.