Covid19, the noble coronavirus though only six months old, has impacted more than six million lives across the globe and has already taught us many new things. Social distancing practice, work-from-home requirements and higher personal hygiene norms are already the new normal. Though it may sound simple to hear, the way our cities and buildings are planned in the current times has made it difficult to comply with these new norms.
High rise building with open plan culture, technologies used to reduce the space required for any activity, multi-use spaces, lack of balconies has made it difficult to compact the transmission of CoVID-19.
WHO says transition towards ‘New Normal’
WHO asking us to accept COVID-19 and learn to start living with it, it brings to our consideration how the city design and infrastructure planning needs to be altered.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia has categorically in his media brief stated that with countries now preparing to transition towards a “new normal” in which social and economic life can function, continued whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach would be critical.
With the risks involved in travelling through public transports, compact city development with decentralised infrastructure provisions will gain more popularity.
Smart Cities Needs to be Smart in New Normal
Smart cities mission already envisages promoting mix-land use in area-based developments, containing a range of compatible activities and land-use close to one another in order to reduce the need for travel. Also, innovative ideas of organising urban infrastructure around social distancing principles should be encouraged.
One such example also underpins a new maze-like design for a crowd-free public park by Studio Precht, an architecture studio based in Austria. The paths in the park are 2.4 metres (8 feet) apart, with 90-cm (35-inch) hedges dividing them, allowing visitors to experience the benefits of green space while remaining at a safe physical distance.
Changing perception of public spaces & workspaces
This pandemic will surely change how developers, landlords, employees, facilities firms and consumer view technological integration into the buildings. Post Covid19, people will be more distrustful of public spaces and workspaces.
It has become imperative to devise newer norms for spacing and occupancy limits, zoning and other measures for managing inflow and outflow of people into offices, malls and transport hubs.
After the social distancing norms taken in taken into account, the much detailed planning norms and space standards will need substantial revisions or the urban systems should get intertwined with technology reducing the need of physical usage the city infrastructure.
With many predicting that the pandemic will result in more people working from home even after lockdowns are lifted, the race is on to redesign domestic spaces. The concept of healthy and responsive building needs to be more popular.
The natural elements in building design
The traditional approach to the healthy building through strategies like greater penetration of sunlight, improved natural ventilation and use of organic and less toxic substances in the building construction and interior decoration should be revisited and re-integrated into the building service design. Sky-lights, ventilators, large windows, wider and segregated balconies and internal green courtyards, rooftop terrace gardens, with enough provision of spaces for exercise and meditation to suffix the requirements of the new norm of “stay-indoors”.
The architectural design and space standards will be influenced as well. The need for “quarantine rooms”, and “a dedicated workspace at home” is going to become an accepted requirement for the upcoming house designs.
Maintaining social distancing in one or two-bedroom units with an average carpet area of about 25 to 40 sq.m is a difficult task and therefore, requires a more innovative design approach. The change in current requirements for the staircase (more than normal 1.5m width), parking (more thrust will be on personal vehicle), lifts ( smaller lifts will be advisable), will change the way the buildings have been designed.
Locally contextualised ideas, incorporating the needs from “new-normal” as well our traditional way of living, innovative ideas similar to Split Shift Home design should be ideated. Also launched by Studio Precht, the Split Shift Home design aimed at helping parents who both work from home while sharing parental responsibilities. The unit has features like moveable walls, an area for growing fruits and vegetables, and extra office and food storage spaces.
Technology will be mainstay for health cities
Technological interventions will focus on creating and maintaining healthy spaces, healthy workforce and in turn healthy cities. It has already been most efficiently used in surveillance from the application of contact tracing and live monitoring through “Arogya setu” app or city-wide monitoring through the Drones.
Work from home protocols, high usage virtual meeting spaces, entertainment through streaming services, will require sufficiently high-speed internet connectivity across the globe, making digital infrastructure development of prime importance. High-speed internet like 5G, platforms, digital twins, sensors, and the “Internet of Things” normally characterises Smart City pitches.
For instance the Urban observatory in “The Newcastle University” has embedded sensors provide real-time data on city systems to optimise performance and enable evidence-based decision making. Sense My Street is an example of the Observatory’s is an urban sensing toolkit and citizen-led science initiative set up in collaboration with Open Lab. The project works with communities in Newcastle to tackle air pollution, traffic congestion and flooding.
Moreover, the use of robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality can be deployed in support of a complete rethink of urban life.
The advent of virtual reality from surgery to travel
Virtual reality tools already help surgeons plan surgery, individuals experience a travel destination even before they take flight, children learn in a simulated (but very real) walk on the moon and soldiers train for combat scenarios, and with the future filled with even of these VR applications as more ways will be explored ways of enhancing the technological operations.
With the travel restrictions in place, integration of virtual reality along with sensory experience of specially designed built forms can very well be used to recreate the serenity of exotic travel destinations into every city of the world.
There might different approaches to do the after-math, but it is imperative to rethink design of buildings and urban infrastructure to promote a more local lifestyle and help people adapt to a post-pandemic world.