As many cities across California slowly reopen for business, the thought of a COVID-19 resurgence lingers. The buildings we are all returning to were not designed with social distancing in mind.
Architects and engineers have a new challenge on their hands with a strong focus on infection control. Not only will they need to design for sanitation, health, and safety, but they also must implement new retrofits for small buildings, high-rises, and skyscrapers to limit occupants’ exposure to diseases.
“At a minimum, we will see protective plexiglass dividers that will still allow visual openness, but greater health protection. Also, we will revisit HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] system design to help prevent any future spread of viruses,” said Robert Chase, an architect consultant with the California Architects Board.
The need to touch surfaces to open doors and turn on faucets has caused a fundamental flaw in building design, giving popular areas a perfect breeding ground for germs.
The pandemic has prompted calls for new building codes by public health officials. Re-thinking technology will be necessary to keep people from spreading viruses.
Many buildings have already been designed with touchless toilets, soap dispensers, faucets, and paper towel dispensers, but they often fail. Upgrading hands-free technology will be needed as well as adding more features to improve hygiene. This would include self-cleaning stalls and sinks and strict requirements for bathroom attendants to give more attention. This technology can also be translated into opening doors and using buttons. “We will see a completely hands-free operation of all elements. Doors can be set up to allow a foot to open them. And again, greater filtration in our HVAC systems,” said Chase.
The Need to Expand and Contract
Many communities had a desperate need for more hospital beds when COVID-19 cases peaked. Separating patients with symptoms from ones without also posed a challenge. California architects and engineers have been working on designing a more sufficient system for hospitals. One idea includes producing temporary hospital spaces that meet all standards. These modules can be set up within 14 days or less, then disassembled when not needed.
Repurposing Our History
With millions of Californians now working from home, telecommuting has become a new normal. This could result in empty buildings and devastate many local economies. Communities are looking into reusing structures that once held thousands of people during work hours. Architects and engineers are working on plans to reconfigure spaces with meaningful designs that can meet critical needs. “there is more discussion about using these types of buildings for housing, particularly affordable housing. And particularly if they are on bus lines or near affordable housing,” said Chase.
Empty spaces can also be used to increase access to medical facilities and build schools with safety and social distancing in mind.
Redesigning and repurposing structures during the pandemic might not be enough to spark a new architectural era, but in a few short years, new concepts and innovative safety guidelines could result in building designs like never seen before.
If you are looking to hire an architect or engineer to build a new structure or retrofit an existing one, you can check to see if they have a valid license by visiting the California Architect’s Board at https://www.cab.ca.gov/ or the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists at https://www.bpelsg.ca.gov/.