How will the COVID-19 Pandemic Influence the Future of Design?

Last week, we had the pleasure of having Alan Scott, FAIA, LEED Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, WELL AP, CEM, and senior consultant with Intertek Building Science Solutions, appear on METALCONLive! as a panelist. Alan serves as a consultant for architects and designers and is a regular columnist for Metal Architecture Magazine. In a recent article, Post-COVID Crystal Ball: How Might This Pandemic Influence Design, Alan advises, “it is not too soon to consider how the 2020 pandemic might influence how we design our built environment.”

Alan says, “Cloth masks, plexiglass barriers and stick-on floor markings are an important part of our current reality. They will soon yield to more permanent and elegant design and technical solutions to reduce pathogen risks and enhance wellness in the built environment, as we resume normal activities. These include changes in the design of interior spaces, optimized building systems for healthier indoor environments, and adoption of smart building technologies.”

While people are getting used to remote working, it is not perfect and will not serve as a long-term solution. Alan sees “the answer being somewhere in between.” Designers will be asked to provide hybrid solutions, “with business practices and spaces that are malleable and resilient.” Not only for businesses but also for institutions, from restaurants to schools.

In his column, Alan offers the following suggestions to help meet the current and future needs of businesses and workers: “While some functions may require physical barriers while the pandemic persists, we will transition from plexiglass shields to more subtle design solutions that naturally create appropriate separation through structural forms and visual clues. We might also start seeing more dispersed services, like coffee stations and break rooms, rather than large central gathering spaces. Since we now know that enclosed, densely occupied spaces present the greatest pathogen transmission risk, we may see large and small meeting alcoves replace fully enclosed meeting rooms and huddle spaces, provided acoustic separation can be accomplished without walls and doors.”

During the live METALCONLive! event last week, Alan commented that office space will be redesigned to offer a less “open” environment but have more collaborative space with better ventilation. The quality of indoor environmental health will become increasingly more important as workers return to office spaces. He writes, “We know that code-minimum ventilation is not optimal for respiratory health or cognitive function. Additionally, traditional overhead ventilation systems that rely on the mixing of room air to achieve thermal comfort conditions are also notorious for spreading pollutants through the space before they are removed with the return air. Computation fluid dynamic modeling and testing of full-scale installations of displacement ventilation and under-floor air distribution have shown that they are superior to traditional overhead systems.”

Experts consider stainless steel to be a very hygienic material because of its natural coating that prevents oxidation, ease of cleaning and it does not absorb bacteria. Photo credit: Stainless Structurals.

Building owners and facility managers have been increasingly adopting smart building technology along with increasing their focus on better hygiene. Technology advancements range from simple smartphone applications allowing touchless elevator operation, to sophisticated facility-based contact tracing that flags heavily used spaces for more frequent cleaning (saving staff time) and helping to identify higher risk contacts (e.g., extended proximity and interaction) in the event an occupant has a confirmed infection. During the METALCONLive! event, Alan also shared how the use of steel and coatings for interior spaces may transition to greater use as these materials may be better for cleaning and less transfer of illnesses.

Check out Alan Scott on METALCONLive’s episode: “Construction, Metal Construction and Design: Trends and Outlook” recorded live last Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Tune into the next METALCONLive! event scheduled for next Wednesday, October 21 at 1:00 pm EST. REGISTER HERE.

Metal Architecture, a METALCON partner publication, is the leading authority on the use of metal in architectural applications and building design, educating architects, design professionals and engineers engaged in new construction, retrofit, renovation and modernization of buildings.

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