Nearly four months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, the number of coronavirus cases in the world continues to grow. Although some countries, where the virus transmission rate has declined, are reopening businesses and returning to normal, the impacts of the pandemic are continuing to influence people's daily lives, affecting not only the population's health but also their jobs, habits and the economy. Such changes may still endure and may have an impact on the future of architecture and construction, given the prospect of a crisis in the sector.
Two months ago ArchDaily asked readers how coronavirus is affecting architects' daily lives and received more than 600 responses on changes in work routine, communication, construction site, project management, among others. This time, we invite our readers to contribute with suggestions and opinions on what architecture professionals can do to overcome or avoid a crisis in the field of architecture and construction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey was launched on our platforms in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. The majority of readers who collaborated with their suggestions and opinions are between 18 and 24 years old (30%) and following, accounting for almost the same percentage (29%), were those between 25 and 34 years old. Next, 16% were between 35 and 44 years old, 13% between 45 and 54 years old, 7% between 55 and 65 years old, and, finally, 4% over 65 years old. Below is a summary of the submitted suggestions:
Multidisciplinarity and enhanced communication with clients, professional colleagues, and other work fields, have been pointed out by some readers as possibilities to avoid or overcome a crisis in the field of architecture and construction. A synergic and interdependent effort, by merging with other disciplines and by integrating power and resources, could create solutions to achieve quality spaces.
Using free time to improve abilities on tools you already know or learn new skills is something that can be done during a period of social isolation. This period can be an opportunity to learn BIM modeling and other representation techniques to attract clients, for example.
Some responses also recommended a greater involvement in business management. The isolation period could also be used to deepen knowledge of the subject, which is not typically included in architecture studies, and to seek new opportunities within architecture and construction.
Changing people's perception of the architect as a "luxury item" and seeking solutions to their real problems is a discussion that has been triggered even outside the context of a pandemic or real estate crisis. Some readers suggest that to achieve this the architect must perform a social role, seeking public participation in the cities' outskirts and solving people's real problems in housing and urban space.
At this stage, the architect has to be willing to show the world what we are capable of doing, because at least in Brazil, the architect is seen as a luxury or even a scorned profession since 'having an architect is expensive'. I believe the time has come for architecture to be more grounded, especially in the everyday commercial-residential environment. We have to show what we are able to accomplish, how we can organize spaces and give people solutions to their real needs, instead of the needs of consumption or social status.
— Bruna, São Paulo, Brazil.
Rethinking the way we design and build
There is much to rethink during periods of pandemic and crisis. Not surprisingly, many of the answers suggested a revision in the practice of architecture and construction: to seek more sustainable projects, to make use of recycled and prefabricated materials to reduce construction waste and to focus on the use of local resources, techniques, labor, etc.
In times of crisis, while the demand for work can drop significantly, one of the readers' suggestions is to focus on the quality of the projects, rather than quantity, seeking alternative and innovative solutions in designing and building.
Flexibility is an important virtue in the face of a crisis. If something is not working in a certain way it is important to be able to adapt and seek other solutions, other ways of designing, and approaching professional practice. At this point, flexibility can be applied both to the architects' performance as well as the designed spaces.
While we are constantly rethinking the spaces where we live, work, and interact, our readers have suggested the creation of projects with flexible spaces, which can be transformed to support multiple purposes, as well as control the user's distancing, in the event of future pandemics.
Pursuing opportunities, not clients
Architecture projects require capital. With the instability caused by a pandemic and the likely recession in the real estate market, architecture is not expected to be a priority investment for clients. Therefore, one of the solutions may be to seek projects that do not rely directly on these factors, as suggested by one of the readers:
Subordinating oneself to the decisions of clients leaves much of the control out of the architects' hands. We can try to avoid this situation with three actions: Transfer accumulated capital to supplementary heavy operations during periods of crisis, in which pro bono and conceptual work as well as corporate infrastructure might be sustained; work with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and marketing groups in planning so that when the next pandemic occurs, construction already has an action plan to prevent governments from finding the need to shut it down; and, locally, have our professional organizations identify low-cost or pro bono opportunities that may be tackled during the economic crisis, when the sector suddenly finds itself waiting for clients to resume or start new projects.
— Christopher, Philadelphia, USA
Opportunity for change
Faced with the possibility of a crisis in the field of architecture and construction, our readers' suggestions on how to avoid or overcome it seem to move along two interdependent lines: the first is within the context of professional practice, and points to a greater focus on qualification, dialogue, business management and the elaboration of contingency plans; the second, focused on demand, concerns the search for more inclusive, integrated, democratic and sustainable projects, paying attention to the real needs of users, seeking a change in the perception of the architect's role. In general, opinions seem to agree in one sense: that a change will be necessary. At a time of revising customs and habits, the strategies to overcome a foreseeable crisis can also be an opportunity for deeper and more permanent changes towards a healthier future.
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.