By Athina Ralli
Historically, pandemics and infectious diseases have always been a pivotal factor in our approach towards architecture, infrastructure and the built environment, and coronavirus is no exception. Urban planning and sewage infrastructure, for example, were areas majorly developed in the 19th century due to the spread of typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. Public health came to the forefront when designing public and domestic spaces. Scientific discoveries such as the effect of micro-organisms on humans started shedding light on unsanitary furnishings and materials which were, in turn, removed from domestic spaces mostly associated with germs. Carpets and heavy draperies in bathrooms and kitchens were a common sighting in affluent Victorian homes until homeowners were urged to replace them with less textured, easier to clean materials and flat surfaces such as tiles and porcelain.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may not look the same as the 19th century outbreaks, however, the future of domestic architecture and design is bound to change to accommodate multiple changing needs:
I. Multifunctional spaces
Lockdown had everyone contemplating the best location for printers, monitors, whiteboards and even the occasional weight rack. Given the fact that domestic space is limited (more often than not), the need for multifunctional rooms has increased considerably. In order to accommodate this need, spaces will be reconsidered to allow for activities to overlap throughout the day. Clever joinery integrated within walls or bespoke furniture that can be folded up and hidden when not in use, can transform and help rethink spatial arrangement.
Increased time at home implies that spaces have to be shared with family, friends and, in our director’s case, pets, on a daily basis. In situations like these, privacy is crucial – which means that open plan spaces are not ideal for the mixture of activities taking place in one room throughout the day. Space separation and zoning could be successfully achieved by the smart use of movable partitions, bi-fold screens or closable wall openings that help define the space without closing off parts of the house.
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, stocking up on groceries and household items had everyone wishing for larger pantries, larders and cupboards. Storage is often neglected in house design; however, this is bound to change with the ever-increasing need for storing in bulk. By introducing more built-in storage or, where space allows it, fully equipped utility rooms, storing in large quantities will become more manageable with the added advantage of spatial organisation and de-cluttering.
IV. Modern mudrooms
The idea of separating the front door from the rest of the house is not new. Found predominantly in traditional Japanese interiors, the Genkan entryway is designed to store items such as shoes, clothes or equipment used outside to minimise the risk of infection and contamination. Following a Westernised type of the Genkan concept, the main entrance can be reconfigured to provide closed off lobbies and cloakrooms for additional storage and small cleaning stations.
V. Access to outside
Modern architecture and design are always urged to take into consideration the relationship between built form and green space. Be it open or partly enclosed, private or shared, the provision of well-designed external areas should be explored further and maximised where possible. In situations where space is limited, wider openings to allow sunlight, views and natural ventilation can drastically improve the quality of the space. If all else fails, bringing the outside indoors by adding house plants and earthy materials and textures can prove extremely beneficial.
VI. Materials and surfaces
Other than significantly contributing to the spatial aesthetic, materials are also chosen for their durability and capacity to withstand heavy cleaning. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, cleaning and disinfecting has become a daily habit. In order to create a more hygienic environment without compromising on warmth and elegance, materials such as metal (brass, copper, bronze, steel), wood (bamboo, oak) and composites (quartz, resin) are ideal for surfaces that need to be cleaned regularly – and maintained.
VII. Contactless technology
The last few months have seen an increase in all types of contactless transactions; from card payments to no-contact deliveries; avoiding touch where possible has helped reduce the spread of coronavirus. Bringing this concept to the domestic environment, no touch technology such as sensor controls and voice recognition can be introduced to minimise the use of germ hotspots, like handles and switches.
This global health crisis has been another indicator of the escalating need to inhabit cleaner, ‘greener’ spaces that will withstand the test of time without impacting our natural environment. To achieve a more sustainable home following the coronavirus era, there are a lot of things that can be considered at the onset of design and construction. Thermal and acoustic insulation as well as natural ventilation and lighting are design parameters that contribute towards a more sustainable future while at the same time create healthier, more self-sufficient and adaptable spaces.