Questioning Architecture: Or COVID19 solutions…?
by Natalia Bieszke
Cities change. They evolve overtime to meet the growing demands of its citizens and visitors alike. It is a process that is continuously occurring, even if we do not actively observe its fruits of labour. Although, in a globalised city like London, buildings are being demolished and built every day despite the lack of space and legal constraints. Urban designers and city planners work hard to improve our quality of life and it is extremely important to acknowledge their efforts – especially those who work in the public sector. With the climate and environment emergency already being declared by RIBA in June last year, and recently the outbreak of COVID-19 the responsibilities of Architects, Engineers, and Urban Designers have accelerated more than ever. We must re-think how we function in our daily lives.
As we await, do we place our hopes in medicine, technological advancement or the various professionals within the construction industry?
Urbanisation is going in reverse. Individuals stay at home and only venture out when necessary. Those that live in the suburbs continue to do so and city centres are resembling ghost towns. This leads to the question of whether our local high street reflects upon our needs and how much of it must be re-thought and re-planned to accommodate this change of living behaviour (BBC 4; 2020). Perhaps, below every apartment, there should be a pharmacy, grocery store and hairdressers that offer services only to those that occupy the building. Furthermore, the two-meter distance stickers on the pavements seem to be almost permanent, and the never-ending queues continue, as we socially distance ourselves from other people – which may seem ironic. Surely there is a better, long-term solution to all of this. One that we can develop and utilise to be prepared for any future outbreaks or even prevent them from occurring.
One of the largest, and arguably most important problems that we are facing is the economic crisis. This is a broad topic which incorporates the lack of jobs on the market, the amount of redundancies being made, and it puts many young people at a high risk of long-term unemployment. How do we keep our shops open without the risk of spreading the virus and cross-contaminating households? One crazy, but feasible solution would be to utilise virtual reality attached to drones, as a means of our shop-visits. VR headsets have been around for longer than one might suspect. The first concept emerged in 1935 and was developed by Stanley Weinbaum’s in his book titled “Pygmalion’s Spectacles”. Similarly, drones date back to WW1 created by Reginald Denny. Now, imagine a space filled with drones, instead of people. This would solve the issue of household contaminations. One would be able to access shops from the comfort of their home, having the possibility of recording the trips and later sharing it with friends and family. Then, once a product or a set of clothing is decided to be bought, a file would be transferred into the drone. At home or perhaps in the neighbourhoods there would be services that allow the file to be either 3D printed, laser-cut, CNC cut or sawn on automated machines. If we could do this within the retail sector with a bit of an already-existing technology, imagine the scale at which we could transform the built environment.
Another problem that we all face is the feeling of isolation caused by the lack of human contact. This places large importance on being able to meet in person. Facetime, Zoom and Microsoft Teams satisfy our verbal and perhaps, visual needs, however, not our physical ones. As humans, we feel the need to handshake, hug and gesture. It is extremely difficult to only communicate through the phone, and never in real-life. What if we could project ourselves, just like PowerPoint presentations are projected at schools? At least then we could be that bit closer to having physical contact. For those that live alone or with family, being trapped at home, we often indulge into soul searching exercises where we examine every detail of our housing space and pick out all the habits of our co-tenants. Open-floor planning then becomes more of a nightmare, rather than a feeling of vast openness, inclusiveness and perfectly distributed natural sunlight. More personal space is required to work, and acoustics of the house become crucial to aiding in that privacy. (The New Yorker; 2020). To escape, people are beginning to spend more time outside in the open air. As architects, we must always strive to approach projects with a holistic view. This includes considerations of both the social and environmental aspects. A successful project should uplift and enrich the surrounding landscape, giving opportunity for people to meet and interact – globalise – but within a reasonable social distancing space. More outdoor areas would aid in this feeling of isolation, while ensuring safety. How can we as architects create a modern world where we do not lose touch with our homo sapiens side? How can we evolve into modern human beings and not into machine-like beings that work to live instead of live to work?
Rethink, Cities (2020) [Radio programme] BBC Radio 4 10/09/2020. At: https://www.globalplayer.com/catchup/radiox/uk/b8G7abG/ (Accessed 24/10/2020).
How the Coronavirus Will Reshape Architecture? (2020) The New Yorker 17/06/2020. At: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/dept-of-design/how-the-coronavirus-will-reshape-architecture (Accessed 30/10/2020)