Three things

Hurricane Sandy undoubtedly impacted building design and urban planning in New York City and along the neighbouring coastline. The ideas of resiliency and resilient design came to the attention of the design profession because it was clear that we couldn’t continue to design and build in the same ways. The aftermath of one incredibly destructive storm influenced how we think about the place of buildings within an evolving natural environment.

We are still learning what resilient design looks like and how to incorporate it into buildings, nearly eight years later. But what we know for sure is that it broadens the definition of sustainability, which has always been about much more than just energy use and recycling.

Will Covid-19 also change how we design and build?

Architects are beginning to talk about what happens “after”, while also trying to respond during the pandemic. Firms with 3D printing capability are producing face shields and ventilator parts. Other firms are rethinking hospital design, gathering as much data as possible, and strategizing in real time to develop design research projects. There have been discussions within the building science world about how HVAC systems influence health and wellness inside buildings.

Will we design differently? Yes, it’s already happening. Will clients ask for something different, now that so many have been working (or trying to work) from home? Quite possibly. What about schools, retail, restaurants, fitness centers, and every other type of space where people used to gather? We don’t know what they will look like, but Architects and Designers are thinking about it.

There are three things that I think (I hope) will remain after we get through this. First, that people will be more aware of their surroundings, both inside buildings and outside in public open spaces. That would affect home renovations and new home designs, as our houses have been pushed into adapting to this new work/learn/play model. For those living in apartment or condo towers, the ability to step outside onto something more substantial than a small balcony (IF you are lucky enough to have one) could now become a much bigger selling point. Safe access to the outside has proven to be so important in densely built neighbourhoods.

What about public spaces? In some areas, parks remain closed because of fears about community spread of the infection. Other communities have opened up golf courses for use as parks. Sidewalks are too narrow to allow social – or, more accurately, physical – distancing. Demands grow for city streets to be opened, however temporarily, to public use in the absence of cars, so that people can get outside and – again – be safe.

Second, I hope we all understand that everything – and everyone – is connected. Never have we been so acutely aware of how another person’s health and behaviour affects us. We are only as safe and healthy as the sickest and poorest among us. Covid-19 has exposed economic and social inequities – no, magnified them – to the point where they cannot be ignored any longer. Will that awareness of connection dissipate as soon as everything goes back to “normal”?

And third, it cannot be stressed enough: local matters, more than ever. Buy local, eat local, build local, be local. While the major media outlets are looking at the global and national picture (rightly so), it is local news that tells us exactly what is happening around us. We want to understand the specific impact within their own communities, and that has led to a much greater awareness of all things local. This is a global pandemic that is unfolding in highly localized ways.

Will any of these temporary changes stick after the immediate threat of the pandemic has eased? It’s too early to know, but I hope they do.

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