Post pandemic architecture: How has past pandemics reshaped the architecture?

Coronavirus has brought many changes in our lives and there is a need to make these changes comfortable. The post pandemic architecture is not going to be the same as the pre-pandemic.

In this new lifestyle, we are forced to follow the new norms; being isolated at home, maintaining the social distance and reducing physical contact, spending hours in disinfecting our environments, etc. But we cannot survive without socializing and physical activities for long and if the situation continues to be the same, we will have to find new solutions.

This is not the first time that pandemics have put questions on architecture.

The past pandemics have transformed our cities and coronavirus will do it again.

How have past pandemics reshaped our architecture and what can we learn from them?

If we look at the past pandemics, it has taught us that spaces play a very important role in the spread of infections. We could use them as a case study to learn what changes it brought into the architecture. There have been many innovations that came from these pandemics and that made our lives easy.

Today, we are going to see how previous pandemics have changed our buildings and cities and what innovations can be brought to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. We will learn and find some solutions which can reduce the spread of Coronavirus whose main transmission is through the air, water, and surfaces.

1. The Bubonic Plague

During the 14th century this pandemic took around one-third of Europe’s population and lasted for two centuries. European cities were very crowded at that time and it was believed that the transmission of Bubonic plague also known as black death can be reduced by social distancing. This brought the need for large and less cluttered open spaces, cramped living quarters were left behind, slums were cleaned, natural ventilation started becoming prominent, public open green spaces started increasing.
In the past, small particles in the air present in a badly ventilated room increased the chances of diseases and deaths, especially in hospitals. The result is the Renaissance cities that we love today. 

2. Yellow fever, cholera, smallpox –

The 18th and 19th centuries showed the importance of clean water. During that time the cities had no proper garbage disposal system, the garbage used to litter around and this resulted in contaminated water. The need for clean water and proper garbage disposal and sanitation became the immediate need.  Hence, the methods to improve the water system and sewer system in London were practiced, broad boulevards started incorporating. It took many years to make the cities clean, find proper solutions for garbage disposal and slowly it was seen in other parts of the world as well.

3. Typhoid, polio, Spanish flu

In the 20th century again the need to make cities less crowded was required. It forced for better urban planning, clearing the slums, waste management, etc.
The focus was also on single-use zoning, more airy-spaces, cleaner surfaces such as glass and steel, and many more innovations. The cities were zoned as per the social activities.

4. Tuberculosis

During the 19th and 20th centuries before the antibiotics were invented the only immediate cure for tuberculosis was the environment. Fresh air and sunlight were known to be the only treatment. It helped in the innovation of sleeping porches where people could get more amount of fresh air and comes in direct contact with sunlight. This pandemic became the roots of modern architecture as well with the main focus on sunlight and open spaces. Public parks became more popular during this time.

In the end, these pandemics have solved the most urgent problems of the cities and architecture and we could learn so much from them.

What innovation did these pandemics bring in our homes?

The past pandemics have brought many changes in our homes as well and today we can’t be more grateful. Let’s have a look at them-

1. Closets

Earlier the storage of clothes or essentials was done in bedrooms in stand-alone furniture like armoires. It was hard to clean rooms with heavy furniture as it collected dust beneath. These were thought to pass on the germs and spread illness. Separate rooms for storage were innovated what we know as dressing rooms today.

2. Tiled walls in bathrooms and kitchen

The wallpapers were in trend in bathrooms and kitchens during the 16th and 17th centuries. Wallpaper created moisture and thus germs stuck to the walls and also it wasn’t easy to clean. From there the White tiles came into the trend and were replaced in kitchen and toilet walls. The white tiles were easy to spot any stain on white surfaces which could capture our vision and a hygienic environment can be maintained. 

3. Toilets

In the 18th century, our homes were mainly built with wood including bathroom furniture; bathtubs, commodes, etc. This was to hide the true purpose of the bathroom and make them look alike furniture. But wood absorbs water and is moist, it increases the chance of germs and bacteria growth, and cleaning consumed lots of time. And from what we see today we can understand how these pandemics have changed the toilets.

4. Powder rooms-

During the spread of infectious diseases earlier, cleaning became a task. As infections could be spread from anywhere, it was necessary to disinfect everything. So, no one would want people coming from outside to use the family bathrooms. And that’s how the powder rooms was invented during the 1918 influenza outbreak. Powder rooms are toilets where only washbasin and commodes are planned on the ground floor for visitors to use. Outside people coming home means bringing outside germs and hence this innovation was a great one.

What changes have COVID-19 already brought in our cities?

In the initial days of COVID-19, the only focus was to increase the beds for patients, make space for people to isolate.

Architects, designers, social workers, health care workers, and many more came together to make this possible. 

Many hospitals are built within days with the help of prefabricated elements in China and then in other parts of the world as well.

Many buildings were converted into hospitals, many temporary isolation wards were made. 

In case the situations stay for a longer time just like past pandemics, how should the future be like?

Are hospitals only the need for the future? Aren’t other spaces affected as well? 

From past studies, we have some idea that the virus will not go completely. 

We may not see the immediate changes in our environment but in the near future our spaces are not going to be the same and we are definitely going to see many changes in the architecture. 

What post pandemic architecture will look like?

These days most of the time we spend is in our homes, the socializing has reduced but these are not long-term solutions.

Here are some of the changes that we can see in the architecture in near future-

1. Building Automation-

Covid-19 has made us clean our surfaces and our hands even more frequently than before. We all find it risky especially in public places, where we are not aware who touched the doorknobs before us? Or who touched those switches and what not? Adjusting to these new norms of not touching our faces without washing hands is not easy, we forget at times.
But, what if most of our works are done without even touching? Building automation can be the solution. Automation is not something new and can already be seen in many buildings. With the help of automation, we can reduce the risk of coronavirus. Be it homes, offices, restaurants, public buildings automation can make people feel safe.

2. Open spaces, balconies-

These days we are mostly spending our time either indoors. Socializing has decreased, group gatherings have reduced, spending the evening at a neighbor’s house is not common now. Because outside people means welcoming the risk, but that shouldn’t stop us from socializing, right?

The need for open green spaces and balconies within the buildings will increase. Balcony designs in such a way that it allows social life with neighbors while still maintaining the distance. More fresh air needs to be brought inside the buildings in any way possible.

Photo by Emre Can from Pexels

3. Germ kill materials-

There are many materials already in the market that can fight germs and viruses. It’s not only about coronavirus but germs are everywhere and not all of our immune system is strong. Such materials are going to be the go-to-material in the near future. For instance- Copper is incredible when it comes to killing germs and viruses and can kill 99.9% germs.

Yes, just like our soaps and sanitizer ads show. :p

On a serious note, bacterium stays only for 3-4 hours on copper whereas it stays for days on plastics, steel, glass, doorknobs, ceramics, etc. There are many more such materials which we will discuss in detail in another article.

If spaces are designed keeping all these factors in mind, it can reduce the risk of spread of deadly viruses including Covid-19. 

We are definitely going to see many design changes around us and they will surely be for the betterment of our society. Just like we have evolved so much after every pandemic, coronavirus too is going to teach us a lot and help make things better.

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