By Ar. Dikshu C Kukreja
We present an opinion by the principal architect of an established New-Delhi firm of architects, which points to the direction that residential design could take post-pandemic.
At the turn of a new decade, the possibility of a pandemic outbreak was least expected, yet one shook the world order with tremendous force. As economies struggle to resolve the crisis at hand, one thing is for certain – the way of working after the pandemic is not going to be the same. History bears witness to the drastic and profound aftermath of pandemics such as the Broad Street Cholera outbreak in England in mid-19th Century, and the deadly Spanish Flu affecting almost 30% of the total world population in the early 20th Century, which scarred and forced different stakeholders to reinvent the norm of architectural design.
With the Coronavirus having already affected millions across the world and still counting, one can expect built environment elements such as residences, schools, public infrastructure, and offices, to name a few, to imbibe a redefined design language. Going forward, it is necessary to acknowledge the deep impact of the pandemic on not just one’s psyche but also lifestyle.
There are two significant approaches that one could take into consideration. The first involves short-term or quick fix solutions where one can tweak plans, interiors or materials to accommodate the required changes. The second seeks a much more comprehensive long-term plan which involves remodelling the current spaces keeping in mind that today, in 2021; we have been fast-forwarded ten years to what would have been the norm in 2030. With a crystal gaze, one would need to bring awareness to accept this new paradigm of living.
As architects our responsibilities extend from building edifices to creating a habitable environment, as well as healing the existing ecosystem. Our aim should be to focus on and suggest long-term improvements which would benefit our generations to come. A befitting example is the work from home culture which has taken on strong momentum.
My firm, CPKA, has been working closely with experts from an array of backgrounds such as government organisations, healthcare, technology, real estate and others to understand how we can best resolve the current situation. Presently, anticipating whether there is a V-shaped recovery in the economy in the coming few months wherein we all resume our lives back to how it was or a future with frequent lockdowns and a complete change in social lifestyle.
Technology will also establish a stronghold in the functioning of economies and different verticals of development to equip us with better preparedness for future outbreaks.
COVID-19’s impact has been such that a new normal has emerged, making it our duty to construct the necessary changes and tweaks to our ecosystem and successfully emerge to create a safe habitat for our present and future generations.
With residential designs, especially, we have to ensure that we design for social distance and not social isolation. Each visitor should be subjected to temperature screening or even some form of UV disinfecting and self-cleaning at the entrance. Sanitation booths (if the space allows) or wall-mounted and portable sanitation stands can be installed at the entryway. Communities can also strive towards complete elimination of the traditional waiting area by creating alternative ‘waiting nooks’ scattered around the building and relying on RIFD technology to track and alert patients in the vicinity.
One should also carefully rethink material selection not only for outdoors but indoors as well. Surfaces contaminated with infected droplets can transmit disease. Reports suggest that on materials with non-porous surfaces (e.g. stainless steel, plastic, composites), COVID-19 has been shown to live the longest. Special care should be taken to routinely clean these surfaces or completely avoid their use, if possible.
Surprisingly, however, porous materials like wood, cardboard, fibres, cotton, and leather seem to be a less stable material for the COVID-19 virus, which lasts only 24 hours on these surfaces. New guidelines have to be implemented unlike those determined by previous diseases, in the face of new realities. Antibacterial fabrics and finishes, including those that already exist, like copper, and those that will inevitably be developed must be used.
COVID has escalated the use and development of efficient touchless technology. Automatic doors, voice-activated elevators, cell phone-controlled entry, and hands-free light switches should be installed. Since washrooms are some of the most frequented and commonly used areas, sanitary fixtures should preferably be automatic and sensory (taps, showers, etc.).
Even though this pandemic has placed us in a grim space, there’s a silver lining for people who are getting to spend more time with their families, and less traffic movement resulting in cleaner and greener environments. It becomes imperative for us to use this time in creating and reforming our spaces to serve for a safe and hopeful future.
Reminding ourselves about how the aftermath of 9/11, an event which occurred in one global city, New York, in the United States, led to the reformulation of security norms for individuals as well as countries, one can be certain that life after COVID will not be the same. Rather than immersing ourselves in the unforgiving circumstances, we should look at this as a cue to create liveable and meaningful spaces that harmoniously include advanced features of technology in designs to improve the quality of human life.
Ar. Dikshu C Kukreja is the Managing Principal of C P Kukreja Architects in New Delhi, India. He received his M. Arch. (Urban Design) from Harvard University, USA. Kukreja’s firm is ranked amongst the top 100 architectural firms in the world.