As the world is slowly reopening, easing lockdown measures, everyone is adapting to new realities. Imposing drastic adjustments to our lives, the coronavirus has introduced a new “normal”, changing our perceptions and altering our priorities. Driven towards questioning and evaluating our environment, we are constantly reacting and anticipating a relatively unknown future.
A casual conversation between two editors at ArchDaily generated this collaborative piece that seeks to investigate the current trends, predict the future, and offer insights to everyone/everything related to the architectural field. Tackling the evolution of the profession, the firms, and the individuals, especially young adults and students, this article, produced by Christele Harrouk and Eric Baldwin, aims to reveal what is happening in the architecture scene.
While we cannot foresee the future, we can create logical analogies that are based on the current situation and our first responses. Architects around the world have put their knowledge to use in the fight against the coronavirus and have created innovative solutions that might stick around for a while. Some are designing facilities, while others are rethinking the city. In the following section, we will elaborate on how the profession can evolve, on the focus of future projects, and on our adaptable cities.
Interdisciplinary approaches: One thing that the pandemic has taught us is that architecture cannot save the world, at least not on its own. As the industry resumes, our take on the built environment will become different. In fact, interdisciplinary approaches are already building up, bringing new expertise and views to the practice, to address more efficiently these urgent global issues. The collaborative take on “shared” world-wide challenges, will integrate notions of public and personal health, mobility and transportation, environmental psychology, biophilia, and even agriculture, to name a few.
Future Projects: Emergency architecture and crisis architecture are topics that will start taking center stage as the world changes. Oriented towards war-related displacement and camps, in earlier times, these themes will be more focused in the near future on mitigation of diseases and natural incidents. Sustainability will further consolidate its status as an integral part of every approach, and projects will become more self-sufficient. On another hand, as we look to establish fast responding structures, we are transforming existing underused spaces. Adaptive reuse approaches are becoming vital in our emergency responses allowing for rapid action. Considered the most effective form of sustainability, this field will improve furthermore, as the world economy is suffering.
Rethinking the concept of home: As we move forward in the different phases of the pandemic, we will focus again on our intimate spaces. In fact, new configurations and new plans are starting to emerge. The quality and comfort of our homes will become at the top of the list. While we are confined in our houses, we are rethinking our requirements and needs, along with the “new normal”: from green areas and gardens, exploitable rooftops, natural light, and ventilation, balconies, and terraces, minimal and wholesome indoor environments, transitional and filtered entrances, etc.
New parameters: Focusing on health-oriented approaches, new standards are going to be set. Design and material are rethought according to the current situation, generating new forms of living. While notions of modular design, prefabricated elements, flexible partitions, and lightweight structures will keep on growing, architects will start planning new configurations with social distancing measures in mind. Surfaces will be covered with materials that prevent the proliferation of diseases and the design will be oriented towards eliminating risks of transmission.
The Adaptable City
Cities, the epicenter of transmission of diseases, have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Re-questioning their systems, they are adapting to new realities, innovating, creating, and experimenting along the way.
Public spaces: While popular public spaces have always been the most engaging and the most crowded, the pandemic has taught us that sharing can also be possible under strict social distancing measures. As these norms of personal space keep on evolving every day, public spaces are set to become more flexible in terms of physical engagement. Projects are already dispersing people in wider spaces and are generating different and parallel journeys. Natural elements are creating buffer zones to highlight safe areas and to mark personal unapproachable spaces. For example, Studio Precht has proposed the “Parc de la Distance”, an outdoor space in Vienna that encourages social distancing and short-term solitude, inspired by French baroque gardens and Japanese Zen-gardens.
Density: For a while now, urban designers and policymakers have been advocating for densification as a sustainable process to expand the city, rather than relying on devastating urban sprawls. With the pandemic hitting crowded cities the hardest, these strategies are re-questioned. Richard Sennett raises the issue of the architecture of density in Domus, stating that “concentration of people is also a good ecological principle in dealing with climate change, by saving on infrastructure resources […] Yet to prevent or inhibit future pandemics, we may need to find different physical forms for density, permitting people to communicate, to see neighbors, to participate in street life even as they temporarily separate”.What can be the alternatives?
Transportation/Mobility: One of the biggest challenges during this pandemic has been transportation. With a high concentration of people, these public networks do not conform to the new social distancing norms. In fact, many cities around the world are already planning for an alternative future, replacing traffic lanes with pedestrian paths. Ensuring social distancing and reducing reliance on cars and public transport, citizens are encouraged to walk and cycle. With less pollution and more physical movements, cities are pushing their residents to develop a healthier lifestyle, essential in fighting diseases. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced plans to maintain the anti-pollution and anti-congestion measures by introducing new, fully protected bike lanes from the city’s heart to the suburbs. Moreover, in Milan, the Strade Aperte plan or “Open streets” plan will repurpose 35km of roads, over the summer, transforming them into people-friendly streets.
Economy: Opening the streets to people, can also mean opening the realm for their businesses. While the economy is hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, cities are mobilizing their creativity in order to prevent further damages and help business owners bounce back. In fact, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius has allowed gastro businesses to put their tables in public spaces, free of charge, in order to support bar and restaurant owners and guarantee that physical distancing and safety measures are respected. In the Czech Republic, HUA HUA Architects has imagined The Gastro Safe Zone program, aiming to awaken stagnant gastronomic businesses by regulating outside eating and ensuring the required social distancing measures. Finally, MASS Design Group has released a guideline for restaurants in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to help these businesses reopen safely, viably, and vibrantly, based on world health recommendations.
As businesses begin opening back up, architecture firms are looking at how to manage their offices while students and recent graduates take their first steps into a new job market. Offices are trying to anticipate workload, especially as specific building types like commercial offices and sectors of the market shrink. There are a number of resources for firms as they consider business continuity, as well as new office structures and work models.
Business Continuity: In the United States, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) released the Architect’s Guide to Business Continuity to assist firms in trying to manage their business. Aiming to help offices continue providing services and generating revenue, the guide provides firm leaders with insights into managing staff, premises, technology, information, supply chains, stakeholders, and reputation. It builds on best practices and incorporates lessons learned from firms impacted during previous events.
Office Structure: As offices begin to pivot and take a deeper look at their existing service offerings, they should also look to how their office is structured to take on work, from technology to management and recruiting. With advancements to BuildTech, 3D printing, and fabrication, as well as generative design, now is the time for firms to embrace new ways of working to create value. This can help protect profits and reduce risk, as well as identify actions that reduce vulnerability, minimize disruption, and potentially create new earnings. This is directly related to hiring, from looking to new skills to managing existing teams and how they are staffed to leverage individual talent.
Work Models: Across the world, firms implemented remote and digital working methods practically overnight. For those that didn’t already have these in place, the move has tested the normative model of where and how work is completed. For the long-range impact, some of the immediate changes point to smaller physical workplaces where fewer desks and workspace is needed per employee, and further, how the rise of the gig economy may be more widely adopted in the design professions. This will directly impact employee communications, potential worker classifications, as well as individual job benefits and competitive hiring. The effects will also shape facilities management, information technology, and human resources.
While the impact of COVID-19 continues to evolve, it is clear that the job market for recent graduates and young professionals has changed. Yes, there are still new jobs, but as firms look to cut costs and leverage existing reserves, the market has become more competitive, not unlike the last recession. Graduates and young professionals can adapt by understanding that architecture builds critical thinking, applicable across fields. They should leverage their interests and talents to explore what avenues are available, even if they fall outside traditional practice.
Students and Recent Grads: Depending on where in their education a student is, the impact of COVID-19 will have a different impact. New students should focus on the long term, as economic recovery is likely, especially within the next four or five years. As more schools transition to online learning, this will also shape how education is delivered, and students will likely need to adapt to new learning modalities. For recent graduates, it’s important to have a strong portfolio that showcases diverse talents and skillsets. These may also apply to fields outside architecture. Utilize school-specific advisors, outreach, and career directors, as well as free resources and guides to improve your portfolio. The Royal Institute of British Architects also published resources specifically for Part 1 and Part 2 students, as well as Part 3 candidates. These larger ideas can apply to students globally as well. Take the time to research scholarships and competitions, check university job boards, consider alternative work experiences, and be aware that if you have federal student loans, you may be eligible for student relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young Professionals: Young professionals in architecture face specific challenges in the current job market. To help, the AIA has created a COVID-19 portal for individual architects and designers covering a range of topics, from business and career resources to health insurance and relief. The page is intended to provide guidelines, policies, and tools for our members and is updated as new resources become available. Young professionals should maintain open communication with firm managers, continue working towards licensure in countries where applicable, and find ways to utilize their interests to either benefit their current office or expand their job potential. In terms of relief, in the United States, the CARES Act includes a provision that enables employers to provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. It’s important to remember that there are many different pathways available both within the practice and outside of it.