How the elevator has changed modern life
01/12/2021
A 3D printed elevator to the future?
03/12/2021

Smart lifts and lonely workers: architecture after coronavirus

From antibacterial brass doorknobs to broad, well-ventilated boulevards, our cities and buildings have always been shaped by disease. It was cholera that influenced the modern street grid, as 19th-century epidemics prompted the introduction of sewage systems that required the roads above them to be wider and straighter, along with new zoning laws to prevent overcrowding. The third plague pandemic, a bubonic outbreak that began in China in 1855, changed the design of everything from drainpipes to door thresholds and building foundations, in the global war against the rat. And the wipe-clean aesthetic of modernism was partly a result of tuberculosis, with light-flooded sanatoriums inspiring an era of white-painted rooms, hygienic tiled bathrooms and the ubiquitous mid-century recliner chair. Form has always followed fear of infection, just as much as function. With each of us now living in socially distanced self-isolation, with shops shuttered, offices abandoned and urban centers reduced to ghost towns, it’s hard not to wonder what kind of lasting impact Covid-19 will have on our cities. Will homes need to adapt to better accommodate work? Will pavements widen so we can keep our distance? Will we no longer want to live so densely packed together, working in open-plan offices and cramming into lifts? Will the beloved British pastime of queuing ever be the same again? One design agency has already switched its entire focus to imagining what the post-Covid landscape might look like. Founded in 1943, the Design Research Unit has a history of thinking big. It shaped the appearance of much of postwar Britain, including the Dome of Discovery, London’s street signs and the logo of British Rail. It has now turned its creative energies to imagining the ways buildings could help to limit the spread of future epidemics, spanning everything from the layout of interiors and public spaces, to surface coatings – right down to the nano level. “How we think about the workplace will be the biggest change,” says Darren Comber, chief executive of Scott Brownrigg, which merged with the DRU in 2004. “We’ve seen a huge boom in co-working spaces. But, after this, are companies really going to want to put their entire team in one place, where they’re closely mingling with other businesses? ” The co-working dream was sold on the very basis of social interaction, the promise that you might rub up against freelance creative types while you’re waiting for your artisanal coffee. But proximity may no longer seem so tempting. “I’m not suggesting we all go back to working in 1950s cellular cubicles, but I do think the density in offices will change. We’ll see a move away from open-plan layouts, as well as better ventilation and more openable windows. ” It’s a hunch shared by Arjun Kaicker, who led the workplace team at Foster and Partners for a decade, influencing the gargantuan new HQ for both Apple and Bloomberg. “I think we’ll see wider corridors and doorways, more partitions between departments, and a lot more staircases,” says Kaicker, who now heads analytics and insights at Zaha Hadid Architects. “Everything has been about breaking down barriers between teams, but I don’t think spaces will flow into each other so much any more.” Furniture may change too. “Office desks have shrunk over the years, from 1.8m to 1.6m to now 1.4m and less, but I think we’ll see a reversal of that, as people won’t want to sit so close together.” He imagines legislation might be introduced to mandate a minimum area per person in offices, as well as a reduction in maximum occupancy for lifts and larger lobbies to minimise overcrowding. All of this could have a big knock-on effect on the skyline. “High-rise buildings would become more expensive to build and be less efficient,” he adds, “which may reduce the economic attractiveness to developers of building tall – and super tall – towers both for offices and residential.” (thanks to The Guardian)