COVID-19 pandemic

Architecture and The New Norm Post-COVID 19

By Mo Muse

For a generation that has never experienced a global crisis, one that affects every corner of the world, every aspect of our lives, where words like self-isolation, vaccination, heard immunity and social distancing have never been part of our daily vocabulary; we as designers are left wondering, what’s after covid-19 Pandemic? How do we design for this and where do we even begin?

These things have never been as challenging as they are now. In just a few weeks, COVID-19 has become your new horror series, such as Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” (1995) or Steven Soderbergh’s “Infectious Diseases” (Contagion) (2011) or Will Smith’s I am Legend and other real reincarnations that leaves you wondering, how did we get to this point?

I keep wondering why this is happening and what we as designers can do to help. For some of us, sustainability, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution have been of serious concern. Is that what Mother Nature does? Are we misusing our natural resources and our lives regardless of future generations as if we had no tomorrow?

But to me, things have flattened out, we just need to take a step back and evaluate things in a more rational way, every problem has a solution, every obstacle can be designed, and every irremovable risk can be reduced. So, for designers in the built environment, the real question is how do we use smart design and technology to reduce the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic?

As humans, we do not live in isolation. In a sense, our actions will not affect others. We are a community and we are all interconnected. We can always find the answers to the most difficult questions and crises. Humans are the most adaptable. We will always face challenges and develop ourselves further in the challenges.

In the 5 million years since the emergence of early humans in the Rift Valley in East Africa, the earth’s climate and major crises have become increasingly unstable. In the context of this rapidly changing challenge, people have learned to adapt and innovate. Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, stated that the ability to think creatively and imagine new solutions to existential threats proved to be an important asset.

“The evolution of the brain is the most obvious example of how we evolve to adapt, he explained But in the modern era, we know that in the human genome there are all kinds of interactions that allow human organisms to have plasticity; the capacity to adjust is itself an evolved characteristic.”

Potts added that man has two key advantages: our brains and our capacity for culture.

“Our brains are essentially social brains,” he added. “We share information, we create and pass on knowledge. That’s the means by which humans are able to adjust to new situations, and it is what differentiates humans from our earlier ancestors, and our earlier ancestors from primates.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time that humans have battled forces of nature or epidemics. Throughout history, people have redesigned and redesigned cities and buildings to cope with major disasters or better understand the disease.

In 1853, Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s “Paris Urban Renewal” tasked by Napoleon III commissioned the redesigning of the city. The aim was to bring light and air, to improve environmental hygiene and living spaces, and to make Paris a splendid and modern and beautiful city. He destroyed the overcrowded old neighbours with poor living conditions, widened the streets and built large parks and public spaces. He gave all citizens access to clean water and designed a sewer that can function normally. Moreover, He saw each community as part of a larger institution that can exist in isolation but can be closely linked to other parts of the city. This innovative design solution solved many of the problems facing the city.

If a man can devote enough energy to the solution, he can achieve all goals. In terms of architecture, design solutions should be functional and aim to improve the quality of life and culture of residents. Gone are the days when we could design shape architecture without considering the end-user. The post-COVID-19 architecture is becoming a structure where human comfort and happiness are at the centre of any structure, whether it is an airport, an office building or a bus stop or a house.

I think that as a society, mainly as architects and designers, we can establish some key principles that we should be aware of when designing the architectural environment. From urban planning to architecture, self-isolated communities, buildings and living principles can be designed to survive and support us after a pandemic. These principles are:

  1. Energy Efficiency

Energy-generating self-efficient buildings with low carbon materials and low running costs are high standard of buildings, each designer and developer should aim for. BedZED (built in 2002) is an example of a good energy usage project. BedZED was developed not to use fossil fuels after construction, which fundamentally reduces the carbon dioxide emissions of the residents due to climate change and offers them energy security. The project is designed so people can have a greener and low impact lifestyle.

There are great lessons to be learned from this project, it is applicable, tested and affordable. It uses local or reclaimed materials, gives great social amenity spaces, recycles water and minimises waste. Principles which should have been mandatory by now but are still resisted by major developers for financial reasons or because many in the property market don’t see its value yet.

  1. Zero Waste and Water Waste

This is an important step to protect health, improve equity and reach sustainability. Zero Waste can be linked to sustainable agriculture, architecture, energy, industrial, economic and community development.

Zero Waste is a visionary project that aims at guiding people to change their lifestyles and practices to mimic sustainable natural cycles. This involves managing products and processes to remove the volume and toxicity of waste materials and conserve resources.

These measures will include encouragement of residents, businesses, and agencies to judiciously use, reuse, and recycle materials. Additionally, it will motivate businesses to manufacture and market less toxic, durable, repairable, recycled and recyclable products.

  1. Multipurpose Adaptable Spaces

The shift in the modern lifestyle has led the way for a more adaptable approach in architectural design. Multipurpose adaptable spaces make use of existing spaces to create new spaces for more activities. This of the Open Space Living, a concept which is now a must in all our houses. We also see this in academic or research buildings. This is needed to maximise the use of highly efficient and customizable variable space for multiple purposes.

The Forks is an example of a successful multi-functional space in Winnipeg that was developed through a carefully planned riverside public site in the heart of downtown. It includes a farmer’s market, a variety of restaurants, a non-profit children’s theatre and public entertainment.

Such spaces are key in our society, they are adaptable and can change with us in time. Think of our offices and retails spaces post COVID, as designers we were never taught to anticipate a global pandemic but now some architectural firms are looking at our high streets, entire high streets are now being converted for housing and mix-use developments, it is that natural instinct of survival that allows businesses and large developers to anticipate and plan differently.

Roc Nation By Eric Laignel

  1. Urban Farming

COVID-19 has shown us the health of our supply chain. We rely heavily on imports rather than locally produced products. The world of tomorrow must solve this problem. The focus is on food. How do we create food without depending on imports? How do we make the process efficient and financially feasible? And, How do we deliver food sustainably into the city and private shelters? Relying on the system to control these issues is risky.

As the population grows, so does demand, supply must keep up with the demand, you can either increase the supply or reduce the demand. Produced food has plummeted, the COVID- 19 pandemic has crippled the world, think of all the farmers out there who can’t get their products into the market fast enough. Producing 10% of our food locally will be a major achievement, reducing transportation costs and the pressure on our planet and production.

Urban farming is not a new concept, countries such as Singapore has invested heavily on it and now are planning to export. I think of food banks turned into urban farms where the local get employment, be self-sufficient and contribute positively into their society.

  1. Smart Materials

Smart materials minimise the risk of illness and are more comfortable. An example of this is the use of Totomoxtle designed by Fernando Laposse. This material is made from the husks of Mexican heirloom corn husks, which can be heated, squeezed and glued to make new living materials. The material can then be treated with antifouling barriers, antibacterial barriers at the molecular level.

Dekton produces another interesting material that solves a few problems. The material consists of a ground mixture of glass, porcelain and quartz that is heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius and compressed to less than 25,000 tons. The end product does not require any resin or sealant. It is pore-free, insensitive to ultraviolet rays and very scratch-resistant, heat-resistant and dirt-repellent. It can be used for rainproof cladding panels, countertops, tables and planes, floors, and many other uses.

There are also laminate materials, marble, quartz, recycled quartz, composite paper materials, and Silestone. The idea is to have sustainable and healthy materials. The problem is demand for such materials is almost non-existent, time will tell if such smart materials will make it into our built environment, as designers we should be more knowledgeable about them to advocate for smarter more sustainable and healthier options to our clients.

  1. Human-Centred Phenomenological Architecture

In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, many have seen the need to spend more time indoors. If one is looking to spend more time indoors, then the spaces designed and created need to be rich and meaningful. We need to create an phenomenological architectural that enriches our experiences indoors.

As we continue to be threatened by the pandemic, one wonders whether and how the human relationship with place will develop. I look back at some of my earlier research on phenomenology and teaching of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ideas on human perception and I can see how things need to change drastically, we miss interacting with others but we also miss the quite promenade in a building, as designers we don’t necessarily have to have all the answers, but we should be capable to ask the right questions, explore options and find what works best for the end user of our buildings.

Courtesy Casey Dunn/Olson Kundig

  1. Mental Health Principles in Architecture

COVID-19 has reached all aspects of our lives, not physically but also mentally. There is now an increased awareness of how buildings can impact health and productivity. To reduce healthcare expenses, many companies now focus on using architecture for mental health and wellbeing. Buildings are now designed to make one happier and healthier so that we are more productive as social beings.

Architect Ben Channon’s book Happy by Design is my to go to book when it comes to mental health in architecture, he encourages designers to think about all aspects of their buildings, from light, comfort, giving control to end users, nature, aesthetics, activities and general psychological topics that might be brushed off in the design process. I would highly recommend reading his book and understand more about mental health in general and what we as designers can do about it.

  1. Movement and Travel

We travel either for work or for leisure, the pandemic took both options off the table, many business now realised how financially viable is to have their employees work from home, to some working from home has became a dream come true, to many it has been hell. Post-COVID however, we’ll see many companies keeping their work force as it is, leaving one question behind, how would we travel for leisure in a post-COVID era?

To answer this question we need to answer the density and security questions during and after the pandemic. This has been a painful realisation especially in major cities with big populations.

Density makes mass transit possible. It allows for affordable housing. In a dense environment, infrastructures like hospitals can be erected. In the early 19th and 20th century, cholera outbreaks helped create the opportunity to design modern sanitation systems.

Although densely populated cities are believed to help reduce the carbon footprint of these urban areas. Density helps to allocate scarce resources and services to a large number of people in a short period of time and to use them effectively.

Cities, while contributing a lot to total carbon dioxide emissions, are efficient in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Research shows that a higher population density leads to less use of private vehicles, more pedestrians, more public transport and more energy-efficient homes and offices.

At the same time, however, a high population density also means greater vulnerability during a pandemic. The rate of transmission of diseases is high in a highly-populated area. This is evident in how fast the COVID-19 transmission was in dense regions like China.

In the short to medium term, we must find the political will to address the increasingly unmanageable population density of our urban agglomerations. This task is not an easy one, COVID-19 may not be the last pandemic we face and planning differently becomes a survival priority. It is unwise not to allow a natural restoration of balance. So, how do we get a balanced approach to the question of density and transition?

It is generally assumed that density is associated with the high rates of transmission, infection and mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics show that there is a correlation between density and the mortality rate of the pandemic. The more connected the place, the harder they are hit by the pandemic.

The fact that connectivity is a significant predictor of COVID-19 infection and death rates calls for more in-depth research on measuring urban connectivity and its impact on the pandemic spread. More studies can contribute to the latter by developing measures.

The role of architects, planners, and the local government is to adopt measures tailored to the community. It will be a difficult task to manage a high-density area. Procedures can be made to implement social distancing measures and to manage the impact it has on businesses, households and citizens.

One way this can be done is by creating density transition zones. With density transition zones, architects and planners can diversify existing housing structures and infrastructures to create a density favourable zone without sacrificing comfort. Furthermore, they would optimize the use of existing services including schools, libraries, community centres, childcare facilities, parks, waste removal services and public transit. This would be accomplished by distributing the financial burden of constructing and maintaining infrastructure and services more sustainably and equitably.


It is safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic may not be the last natural disaster we see. However, the pandemic has opened our eyes to a new way of living and thinking, from the way we work to the way we buy our food to the way we think of materiality and energy usage. When humans are faced with a crisis, we find ways to solve them and move on.

One major issue the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed is the power of good design, asking the right questions, exploring design options and not settling for the norm.

The COVID- 19 pandemic has created a need to develop structures that support isolation but not deprive humans of the comfort of a modern lifestyle. We have moved past the days of creating structures without having the end-user in mind. To battle the issue of density sustainability, energy efficiency, materiality and flexible design measures can be taken into account in early design stages to mitigate and think differently of these issues, adding value to our client’s investments, enhancing their lives and improving our cities.

About Muse Architects: We cover all of the North West, including Cheshire, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, Warrington, Cumbria, Barrow-in-Furness, South Lakeland, Copeland, Allerdale,Eden, Carlisle, Greater Manchester, Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, Lancashire, West Lancashire, Chorley, South Ribble, Fylde, Preston, Wyre, Lancaster, Ribble Valley, Pendle, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn, Blackpool, Blackburn with Darwen, Merseyside, Knowsley, Liverpool, St. Helens, Sefton, Wirral

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