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CITY ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN DURING THE PANDEMIC

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AS CITY DWELLERS AROUND THE WORLD ENDURE COVID-19 LOCKDOWNS, MANY ARE WONDERING HOW LIFE CAN SAFELY RETURN TO “NORMAL”

How will urban centres restore activity safely? Can we build health protection into a city’s DNA?

Our once-packed bars, busy trains and bustling offices now look like hotbeds for the spread of viruses.

Mark Kleinman, professor of public policy at King’s College London, told ITV: “We are in this strange situation where many of the benefits of cities, particularly economic benefits, have turned into vulnerabilities.”

Cities take action

 

Empty tube station
Empty tube stations across London

As we wait for a coronavirus vaccine, authorities are finding ways to make the most of the lockdown.

In Vilnius, plans to allow cafes and restaurants to re-open have been announced.

Officials in Milan, want to capitalise on the absence of cars to introduce an ambitious new network of cycle lanes and walking space.

In the UK, Manchester’s council is reported to be looking at pedestrianising parts of the city centre. While the boroughs of Hackney and Lambeth in London have announced plans to widen pavements, close roads and improve walking and cycling.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, announced the world’s largest car-free zone initiative, as part of a green recovery plan.

Announcing the “Streetspace” initiative as part of lockdown easing measures, Khan said parts of the city centre would be declared car-free. Some streets would be converted to walking and cycling only, and others restricted to all traffic, excluding buses.

Technology is here to help

 

NHS Contact tracing app
Unreliable contact-tracing apps ‘could provide false sense of security’

While cities may be changing their outdoor layout, adapting indoors spaces will prove more challenging.

Some suggested innovations include: sensor taps, self-cleaning cubicles, designing exists that don’t require human contact and having bathroom attendants.

Darren Comber, chief executive of architectural firm Scott Brownrigg, believes architects have an “implicit responsibility” to take on the problem now.

He has directed the company’s Design Research Unit (DRU) focus to minimising the spread of disease through the built environment.

Potential hygiene solutions could include: titanium door handles heated up through kinetic energy or infrared lights on escalator handrails that kill germs.

Designing carpets to help absorb pathogens and “clean the air”.

Such technologies will be expensive, but Mr Comber said: “The challenge isn’t the costs of doing them, the challenge is the cost of not doing them, in my view.”

However, some measures are raising issues of surveillance and privacy in cities. The UK government has already met opposition over the potential contract-tracing app. 

Testing for hygiene

Hand sanitising station on wall
One architect is proposing hygiene standards for buildings
 
Another role for Government could be in ensuring buildings of the future meet minimal levels of hygiene.

“In the same way you have hygiene standards for restaurants, you might have exactly the same for buildings,” Mr Comber suggested.

Such assessments could measure the quality of air, social distancing measures, the safety of entrances and the management of lift space.

Mr Comber added: “We have to bring that public confidence back in and I think one way of doing that would be to have a stringent set of tests that have to be regularly done that then demonstrate that your building does have the measures, that can be evaluated, and then you do get some sort of rating.”

Putting a price on public space

 

Person wearing face mask on tube
Will people feel confident getting back on the London Underground?

TFL and other operators will be thinking how to run services in a way that is safe and keeps people distanced. But will people ever feel comfortable again?

Economic think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that increasing peak-time ticket prices on London’s Tube and buses could help manage passenger numbers.

Mr Comber said the DRU was using computer modelling to create avatars in 3D “parallel worlds”. These simulate how contagions spread through spaces and people can safely flow through transport hubs.

Sharing space

 

Building with lots of offices
Offices of the future could feature more access to outdoor space
 
Mr Comber highlighted that living arrangements will be limited by the choices available. He predicted a shift away from open-plan living and a heightened premium on external space.

“What we will need to do in buildings is make them environments where either you can get fresh air or you can have access to external environments,” he said.

Offices could provide workers more access to the outdoors through terraces or open spaces at the top of buildings.

Here to stay

 

Oxford Circus junction
There is so much we don’t know about how the coronavirus pandemic will change our lives.

 Will these measures segregate and isolate people even more? Some say cities have a historical ability to adapt and survive. In the history of London, there has been massive changes. Cities are generally resilient, coping with change and coming back stronger than ever.

Change or not, cities like London will not disappear, they are here to stay.

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