Life, Design and Architecture After the Pandemic
SCALE collaborated with Architects Hub Qatar to discuss designs after the pandemic with a group of prolific architects and designers from around the world on May 8, 2020. Here is what they predict the design scene to be post-pandemic.
The world as we knew it before the Corona Virus hit us has changed. It will never be the same again; travelling will never be seen as a fun, aspired entertainment anymore nor will we ever move around without claustrophobic masks that give us some sense of immunity. Never will we touch and feel any material or surface without feeling particularly suicidal. The design world will also have its own permutations and combinations that will be put in place by architects based on their sense of place and health risks associated with their locality. SCALE brought together a few architects and designers from Qatar and India under the Zoom camera to express their ideas of a post-CoronaVirus design world.
Earth needs to be the Focus
Macro-scale interventions like the choreographies of public activity, clapping on balconies, allowing us to meet people socially from the privacies of our own space and to other immediate interventions like the grey hours, which allows individual over the age 60 to access shops before anyone else, are the need of the hour.
Dr Thomas Modeen
Dr. Thomas Modeen is currently faculty in the Graduate Program (MFA) in Design Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar and a product designer whose designs are exploratory and intriguing while being functional.
“We are living in the best of times in the worst of times, at the same time.” says Dr. Thomas, quoting Charles Dickens, “We are circling around our whole lives, trying to decide where we are and deciding where to land,” he says, trying to explain the circumstances we have inevitably found ourselves in.
“It has been interesting to watch how various designers from different disciplines have taken this on board and dealt with it with some kind of resolutions varying from smaller, micro design interventions like face masks to architects like Alvin Huang who have used 3D-printing resources to make emergency backup personal protective equipment and made the files available to print it in larger scales. Medium-scale interventions like this zoom meeting and urban interventions like public benches with acrylic partitions where you can meet but have sufficient protection. The macro-scale interventions like the choreographies of public activity, like the clapping on balconies, allowing us to meet people socially from the privacies of our own space showing our appreciation to the medical community and to other immediate interventions like the grey hours, which allows individual over the age 60to have access to shops before anyone else, giving them the safety and immunity needed.”
Dr. Thomas opinions that the Spanish flu and early pandemics did not have design interventions that lasted a long time though the Tuberculosis outbreak in the 1930s gave way toa pioneering design by Finnish Architect Alvar Aalto’s sanitorium building, the Paimio Sanatorium in 1928, that can be categorised as the most revolutionary hospital buildings of the time with numerous design innovations, from low window sills to allow maximum views and sunlight into the patients’ rooms, to its optimisation of daylight, heating, and ventilation.
Dr. Thomas wonders on the design interventions that would come sooner than later, “From widening of sidewalks to making face masks a part of our daily routines, it would be interesting to watch what comes out of this situation, “he says.
“We have to think of the world before we think of anything else. This is a kick that nature gave us to make us act, the next one will be too drastic.”
CEO and Chief Architect
Giampiero Peia, CEO and Chief Architect of Peia Associates is from Milan, one of the cities to be drastically affected but being the design capital of the world, he believes that it also comes with a responsibility to finding out why the pandemic has hit the city so drastically. “We have a huge international airport and many trade deals with other countries, which could be two of the major reasons for the outbreak but we also have to look at the fact that perhaps Milan is not entirely a clean city. Or perhaps Milanese people are more vulnerable, immunity-wise.”
He says that their firm which has always been aware of environmental factors and now more than ever will they try to make this a focus on all its projects. “The constant thought is always the same: Save the planet to save ourselves.”
He says open spaces and co-working spaces will have to go back to cubicle designs, but with technologies, like Zoom, to keep us connected to everyone around the world.
“We have to think of the world before we think of anything else. This is a kick that nature gave us to make us act, the next one will be too drastic,” proclaims Giampiero,“The rivers are clean, the Milanese air is not polluted, there is some positivity, let’s not reverse these.”
Technology-driven Solutions with Large Dash of Art
“The future will be of automation and contact-less technologies. Reliance on voice commands and motion activated technologies will be the future, which will be a strain on developing countries.”
Spatial Planning and Architecture.
Diala Quqa, who represented Architects Hub, Qatar as a co-host is a Jordanian Architect who has majored in Spatial Planning and Architecture, an expert in the field of Urban Planning says that 80% of our built spaces have been earmarked for communal gatherings and this will have to change in times after the Pandemic.
To mitigate the contagion, Diala has specific ideas that she feels should be taken to intelligently manage the crisis through design-centric methodologies.
“The future is automation and contact-less technologies. Reliance on voice commands and motion-activated technologies will be the future, which will be a strain on developing countries,” she says. “Smart cities, BIM detailing of construction projects, the importance of security, and even better sanitation, healthier environments, will be in focus, post-Corona Virus.”
“Multi-functional spaces should also be on the minds of designers as we approach a post-Covid19 era,” says Diala, who also predicts new skills for people when human-centric jobs might soon disappear in the post-Covid19 era. “E-commerce has already become the new reality of shopping and Uber-eats, where drones deliver food for you, might become solutions for the coming era of contact-less living.”
“I think we are ready to become the new nomads. We have all the tools and hence home is everywhere; it doesn’t limit our travel rather it customises it.”
Prof Kas Oosterhuis
Head, Studio ONL and the Hyperbody research group at TU DELFT.
Prof Kas Oosterhuis is both a visionary and a practicing architect leading the innovation studio ONL and the Hyperbody research group at TU DELFT.
“Hyberbody, my research group has been doing ICT-Embedded work in architecture for two decades. This is something that I have always been interested in. Advancing techniques and methods for designing, building, and operating non-standard and Interactive Architecture. Interactivity is embedded not only in the process of informed collaborative design but also in the production and the operation of buildings. Not as something that is imposed on us but something that we can play with. We start to naturalize as we would work with pen and paper,” he says as he introduces his work.
But Prof Kas takes us on an entirely new tangent of life after the Pandemic. He visualizes an idealistic society with equal pay for everyone, where no one has to work.
“I think we are ready to become the new nomads. We have all the tools and hence home is everywhere; it doesn’t limit our travel rather it customizes it. We will leave behind mass travel; it will be more customised.” he says. But he doesn’t want to be labeled an elitist, or a white supremacist to suggest this and hence he calls out to the billion Chinese and Indians to design such customized travel pods. “People will make their homes but also will move to other spaces, so the question is what will they actually do. Design buildings or environments in cyberspace. Our spatial skills can be applied to environments like Zoom and be made into an art project out of it.”
He tells us about an art project by El Seed, wherein the calligraphist invited 49 participants on zoom call and acted as a designer, he arranged the 49 participants until their backgrounds formed one cohesive artwork.
Apart from these points, the Professor also stressed on the need for art. He points at the installation by Richard Serra, “East-West/West-East,” a set of four standing steel plates that seems to make one contemplate on the purpose behind its installation at that particular part of the otherwise secluded desert.
The Indian Solution
“If India comes out triumphant from this Pandemic, it will be a major breakthrough and the results will need to be recorded for its uniqueness because social distancing is not a solution that can be followed strictly in the fabric of the Indian subcontinent.”
Lalita Tharani, Co-founder of Collaborative Architecture, a firm that is driven by innovation and ceaseless pursuit of quality in design around the world touches on the unique situation of India in times of the pandemic. She stresses on the initiatives taken by one particular state in India, Kerala, which stood out for its governance, health care guidelines, literacy and communal empathy shown by its citizens that flattened the curve of victims without many fatalities.
She stresses that the Spanish flu or the common cold as it is now known in India, wiped out around 15 million of the Indian population and yet it does not affect the urban fabric of the country and she was of the opinion that this Pandemic would also not create a major flux in the urban interventions.
“If India comes out of triumphant from this Pandemic then it will be a major breakthrough and will need to be recorded for its uniqueness because social distancing is not a solution that can be followed strictly in the fabric of the Indian subcontinent with slums dotting the landscape of urban cities like Mumbai where the density of population is close to 33,000 people per square kilometer,” she says prudently, pointing out that many of the design solutions predicted by the previous panellists are impossible to adopt in India, “So if the country emerges out of this Pandemic without a huge rise in numbers, then what the country could do is to tout itself as a favoured destination for industrial manufacturing especially when China’s supremacy is getting such a backlash globally.”
In the design scenario, she predicts the social contract of architecture playing a larger role in the urban fabric of cities.
“The pandemic might have physically distanced us, but it has socially brought us together. Who would imagine that people from countries so far off as Milan, Doha and India would come together and sit down to discuss.”
Fractal ink Design Studio Ltd.
Tanay Kumar, CEO, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Fractal ink Design Studio comes from an architecture background who has done graphic design and then went on to master communication design. “At Fractal Ink we are into experience design in physical and digital mediums. Our core strength is understanding human behaviour and respond to it where the built environment responds to it in a positive manner.”
“The pandemic has shown two distinct kinds of people; the optimists, who look at the world as an opportunity to respond to what has happened and the pessimists who want to go back to normalcy, someone who keeps expecting the world to remain unchanged and who isn’t willing to adapt.”
“Architects and designers here will respond to the changes in human behaviour which will ultimately affect the decision-making process,” he says. “We will take time to change and respond to the users, design, and architecture being user-centric.”
Tanay quotes Winston Churchill’s famous excerpt, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And asks the designers to wait and watch for the changes that will come as a result of a change in behaviours.
Tanay comes up with a brilliant analogy saying that though the pandemic might have physically distanced us, it has socially brought us together. “Who would imagine that people from countries so far off as Milan, Doha and India would come together and sit down to discuss this. This is something good that has happened as an aftermath of the pandemic. It also seems as if the world was better prepared to handle such a situation. Technology seems to have caught up for all the new ways of working remotely.”
This pandemic has shown that technology will bring everyone at par, technology will be a leveller. It is available at a low cost and hence it makes us all at par. Adoption, across the globe, will be much easier. Technology will take a front seat here and will drive the innovations and also act as a leveller between developed and developing nations on this front.”
“Balconies have suddenly become more popular and that will also be on the minds of architects.”
Dr Johan Granberg,
Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar.
COVID19 is a Great Leveller
Dr. Johan Granberg, Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, whose love for age-old building materials like bamboo has made him a successful filmmaker now.
“This is an unprecedented pandemic because it has hit the higher strata of society, the rich, the ones who have travelled. That is why we are sitting around and discussing the impact of this pandemic that has killed far less than those killed by any other disease,” he reflects. He feels that architects will go back to spending time at home and thinking about the design of the place they spend more time on. “Balconies have suddenly become more popular and that will also be on the minds of architects.”
Hossameldin Moustafa, Specification Manager, Jotun Qatar, a company that has years of experience which has helped them maintain business continuity through diligent planning while ensuring the safety and well being of all employees as well as its customers.
“The pandemic has opened doors to innovation, for paint companies, to think of materials that need to be available during these times,” says Hossam, “Green standard was earlier made to meet regulations, now it needs to be met for humans. For indoor air quality, the paint companies are also looking at anti-virus paints which are being explored in Japan currently.”
“Buildings that can adapt to different needs might also be the need of the hour. Modular or adaptive buildings that can meet more needs than one, needs to be explored by architects. Stadium spaces that can be converted to large hospital units are all the need of the hour and have to be explored. Healthy buildings will gain more importance,” believes Hossam.
“Colours within homes, on walls, affects us all positively and needs to be explored, especially when we are spending most of our time within these four walls.”
Hossameldin Moustafa, Specification Manager,
Hossam also throws light on the psychological impact of colours within homes since the majority of time is being spent within the confines of these walls.
Omeima Ismail of Architects Hub Qatar says that thinking about the many challenges bought on by lock-down, and witnessing the unveiling of a multitude of pre-existing underlying issues, ethical, professional, social and urban to name a few, architects perhaps now need to really pivot and rethink their role in revitalising urban living experience holistically reconsidering all its intricacies. “They need to collaborate wider and beyond their comfort zone and challenge the status quo,” she says.
While new though processes and design interventions are being ideated, social distancing would become an important factor in designing spaces, with the offices of tomorrow no longer being open and inviting.
Will it be closed spaces with lesser interaction and will technology become the mainstay overriding real-time interactions with online interactions? Will we ever know the warmth of a hug or the love of grandparents living in continents far away as we reduce travel completely? Will loneliness be our 22nd-century ailment? But then, let us just hope for a vaccine for the COVID19…