COVID-19 and Environmental Interventions

Safely restarting the economy is inextricably tied to a re-thinking of every aspect of our designed environment, from homes to schools, workplaces, healthcare, hotels, streets, and parks. Four opportunities are instrumental in moving forward and in creating a better world: 

  • Flattening the inequality curve and eliminating disparities – COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color.
  • Supporting health and well-being
  • Enhancing space use through flexibility and adaptability, and 
  • Caring for the environment. 

This centralized source with best practices and challenges in design interventions,  vulnerable populations that can benefit from designers’ attention, research studies, and educational initiatives aims to build global synergies that position communities for healthy,  vibrant, and economically sustainable futures.


Beijing’s Xinfadi food market is typically sprawling and bustling as it supplies about 70% of the city’s vegetables and 10% of its pork. After new cases were found in June, the city went on another lockdown. With cases being linked to the many people who visit the market, it was shut down.

As many hair stylists are actually self-employed contractors, limiting the number of stylists who can work in a salon to maintain social distancing and number guidelines is detrimental to their financial well-being. Safety measures used include complimentary magazines and beverages not offered, walk-ins being asked to wait off premises until they can be seen, and video screenings prior to visiting the salon to ensure the client is well.

Stable housing is instrumental to well-being and this is where affordable housing comes in. As Deidre Schmidt, President and Chief Executive Officer of CommonBond Communities in St. Paul notes, “Those who had access to stable housing as children have better outcomes in life…Those who have access to stable housing as adults can focus on improving their job and financial situation….A stable home is a public health measure now.” As affordability has long been tied to reducing space, more innovative ideas for how to create housing that can be turned into a home are needed–from financing to design.

Residential

Twin Cities, Minnesota


Photo credit: https://commonbond.org/pohlad-supports-gateway-northeast/

Architects rethinking the future of residential design point to storage of food and cleaning supplies being a valued characteristic along with multi-functional/adaptable rooms that can go from living spaces to working spaces for children and adults, smaller units that are affordable, furniture with antimicrobial and easy-to-clean fabrics and materials, and touchless sensor-operated appliances to limit germ spread.

Residential

United States


Photo credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

Roughly 6% of Minneapolis’ positive cases are found in Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where a vibrant East African community resides. Although affordability has long been tied to density and smaller spaces, the pandemic raised questions around the future of high rise apartments. Lack of indoor/outdoor connections, such as functional balconies that allow for light and air along with space for children and adults to decompress can greatly suppress mental well-being.

Residential

Twin Cities, Minnesota


Photo credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

One of the lessons people learned from the Great Depression had to do with accepting strangers. Jim Sheridan shared that when he rode railroad boxcars to get around during the Depression, there would be 50 or 60 people in a car, discussing politics and sharing meals. How can public transportation be a means for relationship-building and dialogue?

As restaurants are called to abide by social distancing rules and use outdoor spaces, The Tenant, a Minneapolis restaurant, took over the sidewalk, offering takeout barbeque. Shifting their business model and offerings has been instrumental to many restaurants’ survival, including one of the world’s best restaurants, NOMA in Copenhagen, which returned as an outdoor wine bar with two options for burgers.

Restaurants

Global


Photo credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

Staples in many restaurants, hotels, and other establishments and valued for the freedom they provide are self-serve salad bars and all-you-can-eat buffets. Because such an arrangement relies on customers sharing utensils and dispensers to get access to the food, these types of operations face an uncertain future in the age of coronavirus. “Sneeze guards” are now more extensively used and utensils must be disposable or switched often. 

As companies reopen, a Gallup survey found that about 60% of Americans would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible and some companies plan to do the same. In addition to rethinking the open office plan, businesses can explore flexibility such as collaborating virtually instead of physically and ways to foster relationships. Pri Shah, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management notes, this experience “might empower people to actually create environments that could be better suited for their lifestyle and personality.”

Restarting factories is instrumental to the economy. Safety measures include a weld curtain that hangs over the chassis line at FCA’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan to protect employees from the spread and transmission of coronavirus and a break table at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant in Michigan that includes barriers to protect workers.

Art is an instrumental medium for making sense of the world and Yayoi Kusama, a world-renowned artist felt the need to address COVID-19 with a poem through the Victoria Miro gallery website. She calls on us to reflect on the lessons as we plan the future through words that include:

“For those left behind, each person’s story and that of their loved ones
It is time to seek a hymn of love for our souls
In the midst of this historic menace, a brief burst of light points to the future
Let us joyfully sing this song of a splendid future
Let’s go”

Paterson, NJ is a city that faces higher rates of infection than other areas, partly because of its higher population density, language barriers, and more low-income residents. The city is fostering innovation through forging a community response that relies more heavily on trusted local residents to perform essential tasks, such as contact tracing and distribution of masks and quarantine kits. Paterson is not a stranger to innovation – it has formed an Innovation Team, based in the city hall, that will deploy a range of strategies, including quantitative and qualitative research and design-based innovation, to bring solutions to the city’s most pressing problems. 

Issac Bailey, Batten Professor of Communication Studies at Davidson College, advocates for reopening schools, partly to avoid a deepening of the achievement gap. Learning from Ghana, he proposes having more classes in the open air, under canopies or tents. Increasing air circulation and encouraging natural air flow can be design characteristics incorporated in schools. For more examples of schools designed in response to crises, see here.

Schools

Global


Photo credit: Issac Bailey

Returning to research labs is an instrumental step to recovery as universities struggle to continue running research projects while maintaining safety. Alliiance developed guidelines for how lab spaces can be accessed and where technicians can be stationed along with touch free door handles, air circulation, and humidity levels. Shared from Anna Pravinata, apravinata@alliiance.us.

Educational – Universities

Twin Cities, Minnesota


Photo credit: http://www.alliiance.us/a-safe-return-to-the-research-lab/

Re-opening schools is instrumental to restarting the economy according to Bill Gates. Education is changing around the world as classes move on-line and as classrooms transform for social distancing. See this gallery for how different places have coped, including school cafeterias. De-densifying and one-way traffic flow are among the solutions cited for how to increase safety when children get back to school.

Contact-less ways to operate doors are among the design interventions employed in the fight against the pandemic. Adapta created a device that allows people to open common round door knobs using an arm or elbow. Matteo Zallio created a 3D-printed tool that can be used for opening doors. See more examples here.

Interior elements – Doors

Global


Photo credit: https://www.dezeen.com/2020/04/27/handle-hacks-hands-free-door-opening/

Ashla Systems is leading the way with smart elevators designed to sense when they are empty of passengers and use UV-C lights to kill viruses and bacteria. In the US, elevators make 18 billion passenger trips a year and each elevator carries an average of 20,000 passengers. Elevators carry 40 times more bacteria than public toilet seats according to a study by the University of Arizona​. ​

The large window in this proposed prototypical memory care room is meant to provide for interactions with loved ones when in-person visits are not allowed along with providing natural views that aid in well-being. The entrance to the room includes a decontamination station and the possibility of an additional door to be added. Submitted by Leif Kutschera.

Healthcare – Nursing Homes

Twin Cities, Minnesota


Photo credit: Leif Kutschera

As countries turn inward to protect their own, questions about political and historical alliances arise. The viability of the European Union, which erased the notion of “borders” for many citizens of European nations, brings forth questions around who pays for the cost of the pandemic and its aftermath. Instead, the notion of travel corridors is now explored as new partnerships are formed in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

The beach in Spain’s Canet d’en Berenguer, a Mediterranean town located just north of Valencia, will be transformed for social distancing. Only 5,000 sunbathers will be allowed and reservations will be needed. Pere Joan Antoni Chordá, the city’s mayor call this, “Like a ‘business-class’ beach,” where a grid pattern will be used to divide the beach into square sections, each separated by two meters (six feet). The question is what happens to those who cannot afford it.