Whether it’s because we want to believe there are dolphins in the canals of Venice or elephants are making themselves resident in a town in China, fundamentally we want to try and find the positives from any crisis.
The truth is, our planet is getting a welcomed respite and we are spending more time with our families with time to reflect, so we ask the question, what are the positives that will derive from our new ‘norms’? We’re all experiencing dramatic changes in our lives, the world has literally been turned on its head. As architects we are often the inventors of change, but how will Covid-19 change how we live in the future? You don’t need to be a soothsayer to know we may never go back to normal so what will be our new ‘norm’.
We live like astronauts, isolated and confined with our crewmates sharing our likes and dislikes. We communicate with our neighbours at a safe distance, becoming considerate of each other with a shared anxiety. We communicate digitally with our baby zoomer relatives who previously struggled with the remote and have now miraculously conquered FaceTime, house parties and hangouts. Our screens are the window to a wider world, our work and workouts, and equally, we invite people to peep at our carefully crafted backgrounds. Screen time is broken by our obligatory once-a-day only exercise with the added benefit of car-free roads and cleaner air.
Never before has an Englishman’s house been more of a castle, a new appreciation of the quality of the space that surrounds us, but how could this space change, will we demand more of it? Will we put more value on a room with a view, a better quality of light, interchangeable space, interactive walls which can change with your mood or screen background. Can we become more self-sufficient, harnessing our own energy and creating our own food. Could we build domestic vertical farms growing our favourite vegetables and even topical fruits in laboratory type conditions – a modern ‘Good Life’? Our homes of the future need to be astronaut ready and more responsive to our adapting needs.
Over the last few decades we have seen a migration to our overcrowded cities, however, could we witness a reverse of this trend. Will we seek the space the countryside affords, assisted by the convenience of technology and enhanced transport links. Is this an opportunity for a coastal regeneration, so many of our coastal towns such as Margate and Folkestone are undergoing a coastal renaissance and embracing their history and cultural identity. Could we build new coastal communities in the spirit of our Regency and Edwardian ancestors, and see a migration towards the sea.
How will our public buildings change and adapt to be safe places? When I was studying architecture we were challenged to be in a wheelchair for a day, this experience changed how I thought about mobility. Now we need to imagine navigating a school, a library, the workplace or a restaurant/bar with our hands tied behind our backs. Automated doors, face recognition security, voice-activated lighting, hands-free bathrooms. We need to create intelligent buildings that are seamless to navigate and are safe places with hygienic spaces that are easy to clean and are germ-free. The buildings of the future should aim to be zero waste and energy plus and give back more than the energy they use.
This week we have seen most of the construction sites we’re working on close, will the returning construction workforce need to be clinical in their work ethics. Will we need to rethink building methods, component architecture, building plug-ins which have been constructed in factory conditions built to a higher quality. Could new building methods create a new building aesthetic, driven by a function of how they are constructed? In my experience the business of construction is becoming increasingly demanding, our buildings of the future need to be non-combustible, energy positive, ecologically sensitive and have a built-in longevity to leave a lasting legacy which acknowledges our past and present.
It might feel like we’re out at sea and sometimes it’s hard to see the positives when everything around us is changing. As we adapt to our new norm can we seek opportunity when everything seems to be upside down?