How Designers Are Remaking Spaces For Our New Socially Distanced Lives

The coronavirus outbreak has changed how people work and live their everyday lives. Our priorities have changed. We put a lot of emphasis on basic services while also trying to limit unnecessary activities. Some professions have been reclassified as first responders, especially during these difficult moments. Medical professionals, like doctors and nurses, but also transit workers, grocery clerks, and garbage collectors are now some of the workers we consider first responders. However, architects and interior designers are not.

Obviously, people don’t think of architects or designers as first responders. However, South Florida architect firms can offer solutions that help during this period.

What can architects do to help society during the coronavirus pandemic? How can society use their skills?

Probably the most obvious way an architectural firm in Miami can help is by providing immediate design adjustments to already existing buildings. Social distancing will definitely change how we design and use buildings, and architects are the main factors that can bring change in the industry.

Virtually every building will have to adapt to the new social distancing rules. For instance, schools and offices will have to go through a redesign process. They are used by thousands of people at the same time and new building rules must be implemented as quickly as possible. Repurposing existing buildings is another way architects can help. For instance, hotels, shopping malls, or indoor sports arenas can be repurposed into hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. Similarly, retrofitting existing hospitals or other healthcare establishments in order to meet the urgent pandemic requirements is needed in many areas of the country.

South Florida architect firms are not the only firms who are working to fight the pandemic. Carlo Ratti Associati, an architecture firm based in Italy, made headlines back in April, during the peak of the pandemic in Europe, with their simple, yet effective hospital design. The new special ICU unit was built with standard shipping containers, which are easy to obtain and adapt. The result was tremendously successful – the temporary hospital was built in Turin in just a week.

In the United States, architects are working hard to fight the pandemic and its negative effects. For instance, architects are currently working on a $5 million retrofitting project. If successful, Temple University’s Liacouras Center will become a fully operational hospital. The North Broad Street arena is also included in the project, which will feature multiple modular isolation units. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is also involved in the fight against the pandemic, helping architects across the country with technical manuals, design guides, and other types of technical support. What’s more, they put out calls to connect architects to healthcare organizations or city councils in need of designers for these projects.

Designing buildings for social distancing

Social distancing solutions are difficult to implement in many historic buildings. This is especially true in buildings that accommodate many people, like schools, office buildings, or homeless shelters. For instance, an architecture firm based in Philadelphia is providing help for the Philadelphia Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, which is one of the largest homeless shelters in the city. The facility provides meals and housing for thousands of people every day and new social distancing measures have to be implemented as quickly as possible. The first social distancing measure was simple – the food service is currently offered as grab-and-go and no seated meals are possible. However, some people were making it difficult to maintain this new type of system. This ultimately became a problem, so effective design solutions were needed.

The solution was provided as a pilot project for the architecture firm. It took less than one week to create the entire design (it usually takes around 6 months). Also, the architects worked pro bono. The designers remodeled the entrance, creating more room for people waiting in line for food. The large dining hall was subdivided into smaller rooms, making regular meal services possible.

Modular solutions – the best way to fight the pandemic

Although many South Florida architect firms are currently working on redesigning and retrofitting projects, most of the current design solutions will evolve over the next decade.

Yes, any architectural firm in Miami can work quickly during these difficult times, but design work is slow. New solutions need time to be implemented, tested, and reviewed. The current trend, caused by the pandemic, is likely to evolve during the next decades. New buildings, especially schools and hospitals, will have to be adapted to the new social distancing rules. Flexible, adaptable spaces will be the norm, particularly for public spaces. There is going to be a big change in how we see buildings in the future, and architects are key to this phenomenon.

For instance, there will be a huge demand for healthcare buildings where patients have to be treated in isolation. Another aspect is focused on residential buildings. Many people will change how they work and will prefer working from home. This means a total redesign of the average home. Apartments will likely get bigger in order to welcome people who choose to work from home.

Architects are also involved in newer research studies. For instance, NORR, an architecture firm based in Toronto, is working on multiple research projects focused on retrofitting existing houses in ICUs. They are currently running tests to assess how these existing buildings can be converted to COVID-19-ready facilities. The project is complex, as there are many factors to include: the social impact, the costs involved, and time efficiency.

Architectural firms in Miami and interior designers also need to work with other professionals involved in building design. Engineers and other professionals need to come with solutions to the new social distancing rules. New building methods and technologies have to be implemented in order to accommodate the large influx of patients. Professional organizations, city councils, and healthcare facilities have to focus on changing how they work and how they approach the pandemic. What’s more, each conversion project has to be properly designed and built, in order to accommodate patients.

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