It’s really only been a few weeks of social distancing and hunkering down at home, but if you’ve locked yourself away from the world, you’ve no doubt started to think about personal and public spaces in a whole new way. (What else is there to do once you’ve go through all eight episodes of Tiger King, after all, than to contemplate?) We’re spending more time thinking about how we use our home, making the functional and artistic tweaks we never had time to do before. Whenever we dare to venture out on a grocery run, the store that once felt like a banal backdrop to produce shopping now is viewed with the paranoid eye of someone trying to avoid traps in a video game.
Whether this pandemic wraps up in a few weeks or a few years is unfortunately still to be seen, but we can guarantee that the way we all think about personal space and interiors has already changed forever. So we reached out to some of our architect and designer friends—who are also all working from home—to collect their thoughts about the future of design. What will the fallout of COVID be in the design world… for better or for worse?

David Nicolay, Evoke International Design 

Over the last several years, we’ve been evolving our approach to workplace design to incorporate a variety of spaces based on occupant needs. For us, this means spaces where people can be together and collaborate, or spaces more isolated for deep work times. During the past couple of weeks of working remotely, it has occurred to me that we need to continue this approach and focus on a sustainability of the people who work in these spaces. While I believe we need to continue to have workspaces for people to come together, our office’s ability to quickly adjust and continue to work remotely as a team, has led me to believe that employee flexibility is a strong focus to be pursued long after this virus passes. 

Stephanie Brown, Stephanie Brown Inc

I think the potential changes to the design of public spaces are vast and complex. However, many of us are now facing the common experience (and challenges) of working from home. And I think as the situation progresses and time goes on, this experience will become less foreign, and there could be a long-term shift in terms of how (and when, and where) we choose to work. I do expect to see more consideration given towards how our clients can effectively work from home. The home office is obviously not a new concept, but it’s not an option in smaller spaces. I think integrating flexible workspaces, whether integrated into millwork or furniture, in distraction-free zones, will be higher on peoples radar. It will also be interesting to see if this experience results in an increased perception of “home as sanctuary.” As a designer, that’s always been a guiding principle, and perhaps those who’ve never paid much attention will begin to see the value in having a safe, functional and enjoyable place to call home.

Marianne Amodio and Harley Grusko of MA+HG Architects 

There will surely be many practical responses to how our world will become innately more automated; less about physical touch and more about how we can all avoid each other. Technology and products will always offer ways to satisfy the more immediate reactions. It is really moments like these that ask fundamental questions about space in architecture and our values as human beings. These are tougher questions, that will take longer to manifest and make clear. For us, though:
1. We prefer the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” Physical distancing is a medical necessity, while social distancing is actually the thing we are having trouble with; why people continue to gather on beaches and on playing fields. It’s a real shame that the word “social,” which is intangible, got mixed with what is a corporeal and tangible requirement to physically isolate. 
2. For years, our philosophy of architecture has revolved around the idea of “Social Density,” which is the density in terms of the number of people in an area, but also the number of personal interactions that take place in that area. 
Our new reality brings the ideas of Social Density into question. Physical distancing may become commonplace—a habit will form and this new reality will have an effect on how we interact or how we are willing to interact with people. This has a great potential for negative consequences: loneliness, isolation, lack of sharing in resources. Good Architecture should always create spaces of social interaction, providing relief from isolation. There is no doubt that the idea of sharing communal space will be revisited. For us, its not a zero sum game. After these immediate concerns, we will continue to face issues of climate change and affordability and loneliness that can be alleviated by the creation of meaningful social space in a dense urban environment. 
We won’t be able to replace our social interactions with digital interactions. We will be reminded of and reinvigorated to rekindle our social bonds. This is going to be challenging as fear of physical safety will have a lasting effect. But it’s important to recognize that we are also in a moment of social solidarity. There is something powerful about this.
In order to create a socially equitable future, especially in buildings, we need to create a variety of scaleable shared social space. With different scales of social space, we can create smaller units of interaction while still maintaining a required physical distance that may make us all feel safer. We see this already with the recommendation that people should be gathering with their immediate household, and then their immediate neighbourhood. This not only creates safety, but also creates community at incremental scales, which will save to create stronger, and more resilient social bonds. So rather than having one large shared communal space, we can imagine communal spaces of varying sizes: smaller ones shared between two or three units, slightly larger ones between five to seven units and so on. 
3. New definition of “family.” We already understand that the modern family is no longer the nuclear family. This is not going to change. Architecture will have to respond to this new reality; there is a difference between a family engaging in physical distancing and a single person engaging in physical distancing. This is an opportunity to create families beyond lines of marriage or blood. Communities that encourage mixed “family” types and incomes, ones that encourage a forging of bonds between neighbours will become more commonplace, and increasingly necessary for our survival. 

Javier Campos, Campos Studio 

When I think of how the COVID19 epidemic is affecting how we interact with each other, it makes me think about how this may change how we think about, and what we demand of, design and architecture. When pondering this, I contemplate two related but different ideas.

One is the thought that when we face an overwhelming crisis we reach for what we know, using whatever is at hand to alleviate the conditions imposed on us. Like a social bricoleur, we create comfort from what we have and what we know. The bricolage that results from this is neither imagined nor planned. It arises from unexpected adoption and adaptation of things not unfamiliar to us. A process that changes our lives by accelerating the adoption of some seemingly fringe practices while making others seem oddly out of touch with our new realities.

In this conception, my mind immediately gravitates to the transformation of social interaction over the internet. Whereas we were all happy broadcasting on the promises of Web 2.0, sending snippets of our lives to everyone and no one in particular, social interaction has now taken on a completely different character. A character promised in the early years of LTE communication, where we would use the power of the internet to actually communicate with each other. Like so many, I now host and join many cocktail hours, dinners, and other online events that I find quite enjoyable. Events that I would have dismissed as not worth the time before. My habitual resistance melted away in the face of this uninvited social paradigm shift.

New habits like this will require an equivalent change in the spaces we inhabit. I can imagine our desire to move past a propped up smart phone at the dinner table may to lead anywhere from the addition of a dedicated place to rest the phone so we can see everyone comfortably to the ubiquitous inclusion of cameras, microphones, and speakers in our spaces so that we can effortlessly summon people digitally into the spaces of our daily lives.

Similarly, the idea of telecommuting has moved from a relatively abstract concept to a hard reality for many people. A reality that may prove to many skeptics that it is not only possible, but maybe also desirable, for those whose jobs permit it. If adopted, telecommuting will demand changes to the spatial and acoustic planning of our spaces, specially for apartments and condominiums, particularly if there are to be more than one person telecommuting.

Telecommuting may also change the nature of our social spaces. A few years back I was in Palo Alto and saw coffee shops with meeting rooms of various sizes equipped with high speed telecommunication available for rent. Unlike the idea of shared work spaces where the idea of an office is made flexible, these coffee shops offer a vision of the future where our social and work spaces are fluid and diffuse. It now seems like a distinct possibility that we may be exploring designs for just such a future.

The other way of thinking about this does not lie in extrapolation, but rather on imaginative lateral and creative thinking. This is where we invent yet to be thought of objects and organizations to deal with a crisis like this in the future. This is where we rethink our existing structures for resilience, for adaptability, for the ability to transform buildings and spaces into needed infrastructure in times of a pandemic. In the vein of post-disaster designs, this asks us to design structures that have built into them the ability to transform into agents of social good in times of disaster, like how can a hotel become a place for social isolation, a restaurant a community kitchen. In my mind, this will be borne from the realization that we cannot afford to have a separate disaster infrastructure at the ready but will have to rely on intelligent convertibility as a line of defense.

This rethinking may also swell the numbers of those who question the wisdom and value of many of the parts that underwrites our current global capitalist structure. Among these may be our over-reliance on a global supply chain. This could create demand and support for local design and manufacture within local communities within a global framework of ideas.

As we evolve through the COVID19 pandemic it is hard to say what will become normal, what will be relegated as anachronistic, and what will stay as it always was. What is certain is that these revised social norms will change the demands we make on the spaces we inhabit. As with any crisis there are opportunities hidden in the hardships, it is up to us to seize them and make a better, more resilient world when we get through it.

David Battersby, BattersbyHowat 

It’s difficult to say what the lasting fallout of COVID19 will be but I’m certain things will never be the same. I’m sure many people are wishing they had been more thoughtful about their work space at home.  If you find yourself jumping from a coffee table to the kitchen island to a dining table, as I do, you quickly appreciate the value of a well located and functional workspace.  On a more profound level, I hope the fallout is greater gratitude. We live in such a remarkable place and the majority of us with such privilege.   It’s certainly been a moment to pause and reflect on the vulnerable in our society and around the world.  Never before has the world been so connected through technology and experienced a crisis as a community.

Perhaps this experience will help us all be more empathetic. We will only resolve this through caring. Each of us has to do our part to ensure that the damage is minimized. I hope when COVID19 is a distant memory, we have refocused those bolstered empathic powers on our injured planet, because if we don’t, we’re going to be worrying about a lot more than the functionality of our home office.

Kelly Deck, Kelly Deck Design

We mobilized our entire office in about 48 hours and everyone is now working from home. We’re so fortunate that a great deal of the design process is actually possible to do remotely. Site visits are a different story.
As a designer who has historically focused almost exclusively on home and a luxurious experience thereof, what I’m struck by in my own experience of moving my office into my family space is the need to have flexible spaces which can be both public and private. Post COVID19, when we’re looking at new floor plans I suspect we’ll be looking for more flexibility from the spaces—perhaps with moving walls and partitions to open things up or close them off when space needs to transform from gathering (for family) to private for work and conferencing. Simple things like where technology can be set up to have a beautiful background to sit in front of on a conference call will become important when planning the home. Home offices will inevitably be larger and more robust in what is required from them, and I suspect powder rooms may become even more important with very careful care being put into the ritual of hand washing—what towels will be used, where will they sit, how will they be stored and discarded? I think it’s an inspiring design exercise—elevating the ritual of hand washing in the design of a “receiving” powder room. Perhaps this room will need to be closer to the front door and home office? Who knows.
On a very grassroots level, I also suspect that self-sufficiency will be an increasing concern for all of us. I have personally ordered enough lumber and earth to triple the size of my vegetable garden this year, and I’ve spent what few spare moments I have designing the landscape for our property as I think we will be spending a great deal more time in our garden in the coming years.

Alykhan Velji, Aly Velji Design

The AVD team is now working from home. I was so used to working with the team that I took it for granted: we work so collaboratively at AVD so working from home has made it difficult. Video chats have been helping. 
For me working alone has never been ideal. I love bouncing ideas off people, looking up from my computer and asking a question or a thought. This situation has made me realize how much I thrive when working as a team (and missing my team). I think that this will make people feel isolated and when this is all said and done, people will want to be together again, be closer as a community. I would hate to see the opposite where we are living in a world where we are working in isolation. 

Clinton Cuddington, Measured Architecture

I do feel and I have sensed that people are realizing more than ever the importance of having home environments with dignity that pull them away from their bedroom studios so they can operate freely. I’m very fortunate that we have a laneway studio that we can go out to and have that psychological separation from home.

I believe very strongly this is what a paradigm shift feels like. There needs to be a critical balance between the desire to prepare oneself for working in home environments, but not moving back to 1950s bomb shelter kind of thinking. When I walk the streets, what I’m seeing more than ever is that people are desperate to talk with one another. I think there needs to be a fundamental balance between re-padding the nest and creating stronger connective tissue to your neighbourhood. I hope this doesn’t lead to xenophobia where people are retracting from the world; I hope it means a greater attention to ways people think of neighbourhoods first, and how architecture and design can connect them. Individuals may come up with a different type of courage that may let them think about themselves beyond their fences.

I’m not allowed to be in my bathrobe past 8 a.m. One of the most important things my wife has said for me is, “Get ready for work.” Our spaces need to do that as well. They can deal and hide the turmoil of a day and allow for it to resurrect itself well to be used differently—that could be an emergence of kinetic wall and Murphy bed thinking.
In the past design-thinking was perceived as a romantic luxury, and now we’re all understanding that it’s actually a functional requirement of life. Where does that leave us? We’re still living in a city [Vancouver] where it was expensive to live in even when you had a job, so who knows what happens coming out of it. We have to find ways to make our buildings do more: the footprints are shrinking and they wont stop shrinking. Japanese models will become more important. Not following the checklist of our parents’ homes. Removing the luxury of having a space to do only one thing. The living room that sits poised for aspirational living, that is one thing I think we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift on. People are realizing they want their building to function well, and not necessarily stop at how it presents to others.