As design professionals, questions of how the built environment might change due to COVID 19 both temporarily and permanently have been eminent in our minds. Do we design offices to comply with social distancing norms and modify homes to accommodate living working, schooling and zoom? Do office spaces that have moved to embrace open layouts and informal workspaces go back to an earlier era of cubicles, compartmentalization, and rooms? Do homes become more of an open concept with flexible spaces and partitions that can be moved around to create a sleeping area at night and workspace/study area during the day? Life as we knew it has changed with the advent of COVID 19. As we stumble out of the unknown and venture into another unknown scenario of reopening the economy, we must brace ourselves to face changes in a lifestyle that we once took for granted.
Office spaces could follow the route of health care design with better ventilation systems using higher quality air filtration systems, installation of anti-microbial fabrics and finishes and perhaps even UV lights for disinfecting spaces at night or between meetings. However, introducing social distancing norms in the commercial office scenarios could prove to be challenging and less profitable given the high price of real estate especially in places like New York City. Developing a flexible plan that can accommodate changes as needed might be the way forward.
Adaptable layouts might be the answer to apartment and home layouts in the city where many people could have the option of working from home and avoiding long commutes post COVID. For those who do not have the luxury of designating a separate office room that is sound insulated and technologically outfitted, a flexible interchangeable layout could be the way to go. Living/dining/kitchen areas could be planned to be open areas including a workspace carved out of a corner nook or converted walk in closet. Installing movable partitions or sliding folding doors could also provide some flexibility to the layout creating enclosable private spaces for work purpose during the day and folding up to reopen the space when not needed. Convertible space saving furniture that transforms from a sofa to a bed, bed to a desk etc. could be utilized to accommodate different needs.
Automation and touchless technologies that are already being incorporated will become more widely deployed. Smart home systems that control the temperature (and perhaps in the future the quality of air) lighting, shades, audio and security systems will become more sort after.
Incorporating better lighting to facilitate work conditions would be another consideration. If natural light is not an option, the type of artificial lighting is important. Homes usually have ambient lighting such as overhead or recessed fixtures that spread the light around the space. Dedicated task lighting such as a desk lamp that can be focused on a work area is ideal for a home office scenario. Using LED bulbs that can switch from warm to cool light or any other color light with the help of a mobile app can help transition to different scenarios from home work time to dinning and relaxing.
And last but not least – for those of us who miss the connection to nature but have neither the space nor a green thumb – a hydroponic system, a living wall or (for the more adventurous) a green roof might be the way to go. In addition to producing fresh herbs and vegetables these systems can also be a source of oxygen.