2020 has fundamentally changed our spatial routines and the current health crisis brought about a significant amount of speculation regarding how our daily lives will unfold onward. With the year coming to an end, we look at how the pandemic accelerated some architecture trends that were already underway, and how it brought into question other well-established ideas.
The past year was pivotal for architecture, with significant repercussions on how we approach programs and design spaces. 2020 has re-instated the success of mixed-use developments, brought into question the already criticized open-plan office and sparked debates around whether or not the pandemic will kill the demand for micro-apartments. The health crisis experience has equally confirmed some paths and carved new ones for the architecture practice in years to come.
Adaptability at the Forefront of Architecture
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Adaptability has been important in architecture for a while now, as the profession has acknowledged the dilemma of designing buildings that span decades for programs that might change entirely in a few years. The experience of 2020 has re-inforced the importance of flexible design, which can accommodate a wide variety of unforeseen scenarios. As Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro said in an interview this year, "notions of flexibility are the way that our studio is going to go forward. It isn't just the virus; it is the change of the speed of society", further stressing that "adaptability to economic, environmental, political change is critical for the discipline to become important, vibrant and connected to what is happening."
A Proliferation of Mixed-Use Developments
Many developers prioritized mixed-use schemes even before the health crisis, creating autonomous parts within the urban fabric. However, the current situation seems to have exacerbated the idea. "In reality, we're seeing a feature that aligns well with what we were planning for pre-pandemic, only now we have a real-world case study to prove its worth," says Stephen Coulston, principal at Perkins and Will, who predicts a dramatic increase in mixed-use buildings in the near future. Vicente Guallart's proposal for a self-sufficient community in China not only proves this trend but takes it a step further. The design defines a new urban typology, informed by the pandemic experience, with a highly diverse program, comprising energy and food production systems, which turn the development into an almost self-sufficient environment. "We cannot continue designing cities and buildings as if nothing had happened," says Vicente Guallart, who also explains that having developed the winning entry during lockdown motivated the team "to include all those aspects that could make our lives better so that a new standard could be defined".
The 15 Minute Neighbourhood
The concept is part of the sustainable urban design thinking and implies having all necessary amenities within a short walk, bike-ride or public transit trip. The strategy decentralizes the local economy, with each neighbourhood featuring all the aspects of urban living, from workspaces, businesses, to recreation, green areas, and housing. The concept, dating back to 1900s, made a come back in 2019, as the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, became a prominent supporter of the 15-minute city or la ville du quart d'heure. Now several cities around the world included the idea in their post-pandemic recovery strategies.
New Spatial Criteria for Housing
The pandemic will likely bring a value shift regarding housing, especially in densely populated cities, where lockdowns and extended working from home periods brought to light the shortcomings of many dwellings. The demographic pressure and housing shortage in large cities won't go away post-pandemic, so neither will the minimum dwelling trend. However, this year's experience will undoubtedly prompt residents and developers to prioritize outdoor spaces, while also defining a new standard of living for future developments. Looking further down the line, past this health crisis, it is likely that housing schemes and apartment layouts will become more flexible, allowing the possibility to separate different functions. Projects now in the making already aim to provide varied outdoor areas and space for working from home.
Open Plan Office under Scrutiny
The office space was already changing even before the pandemic, with studies showing large-open plan spaces as having negative effects on mental health and productivity. Throughout 2020, the office's future has been speculated at length, and there is a widely accepted belief that the flexibility of work is here to stay. Surveys reveal that 40% of people wish to work from home 40% of the time after the pandemic subsides. Consequently, redefining the office space might mean having multiple companies sharing the same space on rotation, using the office as a collaborative hub with the bulk of tasks carried out through remote work, and creating easily customizable space. On these lines, CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati has recently created a pilot project for Sella Group's Open Innovation Center, which emphasizes shared activities and key connecting areas.
A New Age for Museums
As this year has taken a toll on cultural institutions, museums will postpone extensions projects and rethink the existing spaces. The pandemic prompted a deeper rethinking of museum design, engaging aspects such as numerous access points to prevent long queues, multiple routes through the museum, flexible gallery spaces, an enhanced connection with the outdoors. However, until tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels, museums will need to adjust their programs and functioning to engage with a less robust audience. From ticketing, visitor traffic, to exhibit design, the pandemic will have long-lasting effects on this building typology.
The list is by no means exhaustive, as the current crisis has challenged architects to rethink and question almost all aspects of the built environment. This year's global event might have been the unlikely catalyst for innovation in architecture, which we will see unfolding in the years to come.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: 2020 In Review. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.