Yesterday, on the 20th of April, we passed the cap of 111 days of the pandemic. During this time, we’ve been busy fighting in supermarket aisles over toilet paper in Australia, lining up for marijuana purchases in Amsterdam and boosting gun demand in the USA. We are conscious none of those will help in fighting the virus, but we do it, nonetheless. Beyond the bizarre human psyche, this pandemic unveils interesting trends that will, whether we like it or not, impact on Architecture and Cities.
Sitting from our home, in forced confinement, while entertaining our daily ZOOM meetings, we suddenly realise we need to review all our ongoing and future projects. The problem? The pandemic has brought everything to a standstill and raising a number of uncertainties for the real estate sector. Investors are turning to other portfolios with high risk but short-termed gains, developers are freezing projects and reviewing market demand post-virus, and consumers are facing unemployment rendering inability to commit to hefty and long-term property loans. So, how to design in this context? In an environment where we do not know the endpoint, where the future economic impacts are still unknown, and where every week we are introduced with other uncertainties. Demand is changing. There is no way around this.
While some design practices specialising with luxury products may survive with minimal renovations, many will have to adapt and reinvent themselves, as the world braces for an incoming recession; which the IMF warns may be the worst since the ‘great recession’. Actually, there was nothing ‘great’ about it, as it brought with it increasing inequality, rendering a shift in market demands. Just like it did in the past, our industry will be severely impacted, and this means most design firms as the majority of us dwell in producing affordable products to match demands representing 99% of the market. A market that usually retains very little attention due to their low-cost aspects and less glamourous sides. However, with future affordability being questioned, how do we serve this target group?
Other questions arise over our ZOOM meeting as to the future of technology in Architecture and Urbanism. Smart Cities have been, for long, branded as tech-fuelled urban solutions, but only enforced as property development. End users rarely ended up with a more performant lifestyle, but developers on the other hand, through clever branding, did gain in sales. With the role of technology being highlighted in this pandemic, from the role of Artificial Intelligence in the early detection of the virus in Wuhan to its role in tracking the outbreak, technological solutions will be back in fashion. Smart city solutions will gain from this and may witness another peak. But do we need to continue pursuing it as property development or does the concept need a review?
Additional concerns as to the sustainability aspect are also being highlighted as to rash policy decisions during and post-pandemic. Impacts on the environment are seen to be positive, but may soon see a reversal post-virus. We are reminded that our focus has changed from climate change to pandemic; but both remain crisis of magnitude. The end of the coronavirus story will not mean all is OK, it will just mean re-aligning efforts towards solving the other problem of climate change, which we have temporarily shelved.
Practices are moulding to the flow, with constant rapid shifts in policies and priorities. The future looks uncertain and many other Architects, Urbanists and Designers are surely raising the same concerns during daily or weekly office briefings as to the future of their projects, or of the sectors in general. As our future demand changes, so will our process of work, design and thinking. We will need to re-invent ourselves to fit the new normal. Resistance to change will be futile, ill-advised and downright stupid.
To explore this further, ArchDaily is introducing a series of articles, where during the next month, with 1 article per week, we will explore the emerging thematics impacting the Architectural, Urban and Design worlds post-virus. We will dwell into what the future holds, and in this process also aim to highlight what needs to change for us to achieve better equity, sustainability and resilience.
To engage in a critical, creative and sometimes clashing dialogue, we shall invite guest co-authors from diverse fields. But this series will be principally entertained by Zaheer Allam, who sees cities in everything; author of 5 books, holder of 4 degrees (PhD, MA, MBA and BSc) from Universities in Australia and UK, and passionate of exploring future topics. Gaetan Siew, who is always planning his next trip; past president of the International Union of Architects (UIA), current special envoy for UN HABITAT, visitor of over 100 countries, and Felix Fokoua, who lives for artistic expression; Molecular Biologist turned Illustrator, visually exploring African art and cultures.
Join us next week for the first installment exploring the need to re-align the urban technological drive for increased societal equity and identity post-virus; and importantly share with us your thoughts and ideas on the future of Architecture and Cities post-virus.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.