Architecture and COVID-19: Re-entering the Built Environment

Architecture and COVID-19

COVID-19 has already caused a massive shift in the modern workplace. Office buildings are left abandoned as millions of people work from home and businesses of all shapes and sizes are racing to adapt to a new reality. Despite this disruption, we have seen people come together through innovation and collaboration to adjust to this new reality in an impressively short amount of time.

Soon enough, we will be returning to work. When we reopen our buildings, we are likely to face a new set of challenges and adjustments. However, in time and with careful planning, we will safely return to our daily routines. People in our offices will still collaborate, busy shops will still be ideal for store owners, and public meeting spaces will once again host events. To achieve this goal, we must adapt our built environment and re-examine the layout and structure of buildings which have the expressed purpose of mass congregation.

So how do we start to tackle this shift? The answer is one step at a time. Our team of architects and engineers at LAN Associates have been studying everything from HVAC strategies to fight COVID-19 to how to safely restore water to your building as you reopen, and most recently how to incorporate preventative measures like those outlined in the CDC guidelines for the coronavirus, into workplaces and other shared spaces.

Below are recommendations for the immediate, near term, and long-term solutions to reopening your building in the age of COVID-19.

#1 NOW : RETROFITTING

We recommend that you proceed incrementally when reopening your business. If possible, allow employees who can efficiently work from home continue to do so for the time being. Your immediate goal should be to bring back a first wave re-entry of about 30%-50% of your employees.  The following checklist should help you comply with the latest guidelines when you decide to open your doors.

Plans and strategies to develop before you open your doors:

  • Establish office assess protocols for safety and health checks that include plans for building reception, shipping/receiving, elevators, and visitor policies.
  • Reduce density of furniture clusters, the cafeteria, and lounges.
  • Design a layout that includes the re-orientation of workstations to reduce sitting face-to-face without a barrier.
  • Establish protocols for the number of people who can occupy an enclosed space such as meeting and conference rooms.
  • Take a detailed assessment of your current video/audio capability. You will need to understand your current capabilities to plan for the shift to digital B2B and B2C meetings.
  • Execute a plan to install increased sanitizing areas.
  • Develop and implement new safety protocols based on the CDC guidelines and apply these to fit your office culture and nature of your business.
  • Consider using UV disinfection and/or hydrogen peroxide fogging.

#2 NEAR : RECONFIGURE

To get your building back up to 75%-90% capacity you will need to reconfigure your building’s spaces. At this stage you should be monitoring space usage and developing a long-term plan based on employee work patterns.

Plans to implement before your building can handle near full capacity:

  • A full furniture plan that supports social distancing as specified by the 6-foot CDC protocol.
  • Map out and specify standard seating assignments for all employees.
  • To support cases where employees need to congregate, you should invest in mobile furniture and abundant power supply locations. This will give employees the option to move around if they are not comfortable sharing with others.
  • Consider introducing standing meetings and create an open area that can serve as a new conference room where people can naturally distance themselves.
  • By now you should understand your ability to meet the new demands on your video/audio capacity and you should execute a plan to enhance them as needed.
  • When purchasing new furniture, surfaces, and equipment, you should deliberately seek out materials that will not degrade when continuously disinfected.

#3 FUTURE : REINVENT

The workplace of tomorrow will look fundamentally different from what we left behind in March of 2020. The built environment will require reinvention as the science points us in new directions and emerging technologies offer new solutions to the challenges posed by threats like COVID-19.

Our buildings must be designed with a deeper commitment to the wellbeing of people, recognizing that their physical, cognitive and emotional states are linked to their safety. We fully expect new norms will be made possible by technology.  Touchless doorknobs and light switches, voice activated elevators, advancements in antibacterial fabrics, and even advanced temperature check technology like thermal scanners are already being talked about by large corporations and small businesses alike.

We are also certain to see a resurgence of interior building modifications that don’t require the advent of new technology like doorless bathrooms and the use of copper, which is a natural anti-microbial material, for commonly used surfaces.

We expect to see an increase in wellbeing initiatives. The healthy building movement was already gaining momentum before COVID-19, and the virus will likely speed up the adoption of its principles. This means buildings will be designed with a greater emphasis on natural light, ventilation, reducing toxic substances, and added biophilic elements. Workplaces should be considering all of these elements along with spaces for exercise and meditation, and a greater connection to the outdoors.

Can LAN Associates help increase the safety of my place of business?  

LAN is uniquely qualified to help you plan for the short, near, and long-term solutions needed to reopen and redesign for the future. If you have any questions about preparing your building for a reopening, contact LAN Associates.

Information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 continues to evolve at a rapid pace. LAN Associates’ assessment and recommended best practices for reopening a safe workplace reflect the latest information and guidelines at the time of publication. These steps are meant to help migrate, not prevent, the spread of COVID-19. LAN will continue to keep you updated as more data becomes available and guidelines are changed.