Public Space and the Pandemic

Public Spaces & the Pandemic 2

These are unprecedented times. Online shopping, avoiding public gatherings, wearing masks in public and keeping 6 feet apart from each other has become the new normal. But what does that mean for public spaces? All we know for certain is that the way we live is changed.

Looking Back and Learning from Disaster

This isn’t the first major pandemic the world has faced, the most recent major notable pandemic in American history was the Spanish flu, which lasted from 1918-1920. The Spanish flu was a major catalyst for open air public spaces within apartment complexes in the city. Another notable effect in design brought change to the home bathroom. Powder rooms become much more popular in-home design as it kept guests from using the main bathrooms.

Current Climate

All over the United States, the government has implemented a dress code in the select stores still open to the public- No Shoes, No Shirt, No Mask, No Service.

Many people are also bringing to light the struggles that we are facing to maintain these social distancing rules. An urban geographer from Toronto created a device just to show how difficult it is to walk on the sidewalk while maintaining the necessary distance.

Some designers are taking on the task of trying to create public space that works fluidly with the current CDC guidelines. A group of Designers have come up with the concept of Gastro Safe Zones. These are outdoor eating spaces with bright yellow circles that visually maintain the social distancing requirements. They allow for dining establishments to join the public realm. Citizens can utilize and enjoy the public space while continuing to be mindful of the current pandemic.

Future Catalyst for Great Innovation

We are seeing new innovations that are changing our near future. Automation is being utilized more than ever to prevent as much human-to-human contact as possible. We will see a rise in touch-less doors and sinks to help prevent the spread of germs. We expect a rise in self service checkout and ordering. There will be changes to how many can access our public open spaces. As everyone in the architecture industry is aware, we have occupancy requirements within buildings for fire safety. But the question now is, will occupancy laws be created for outdoor spaces as well?  Will new crowd management techniques enforced such as staggered access times, limit of people, and extending hours be the new norm?

We may start to see a change in the standard width of sidewalks and hallways and an increase in open floor plan design for offices. At JL Architects the transition to post pandemic life will be easier as our studio layout is open plan and our studio desks are spacious enough to maintain 6 feet distancing.

All our essential workers, especially our healthcare workers have worked tirelessly to keep people safe and healthy. And as designers we have the chance to actively participate in creating a new future, a future that will learn from COVID-19 and be better for it.

-Hannah Helmes, Architectural Designer