Andy Yan of Simon Fraser University’s City Program notes that cities are not prepared for bio-medical emergencies like the  Covid-19 pandemic, and is emphasizing the importance of  creating safer environments.

Patrick Sisson with Bloomberg CityLab describes the change in building form and interior design that happened with the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.  I have previously written about the remarkable innovations in public health planning that New York City adopted in 1918. 

That city had a lower fatality rate from the 1918 epidemic than other major North American cities.

The idea of light and air being important in building design was embraced  in the early part of the twentieth century by Alvar Aalto . That  translated into functionalism in designing a tuberculosis sanitarium. 

Spaces were designed to be easy to clean, large windows installed,  and minimal furniture used. This aesthetic was also embraced by Le Corbusier.  Richard Neutra   actually created a “health house” for a client concerned with fresh air and light which  was modelled after the clean lines of tuberculosis sanitarium design.

This connection between environment, health and design and the importance of  light and air also was also  a reason that radiator heating became popular in cities after the 1918 pandemic. Using radiator heating instead of coal or wood heating meant that windows could be open for fresh air and light while still heating the interiors of housing.

In New York City 80 percent of housing units are still  steam heated. The New York State Tenement House Act which was enacted in 1901  to deal with the atrocious tenement conditions stated that every room had to have an exterior window to allow for good ventilation as well as adequate light.

That followed up with a  1918 pandemic campaign  in New York City to have opened windows as the way to  ameliorate “influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis”.

Lloyd Alter, a thoughtful editor at TreeHugger sees the current pandemic as a call to redesign housing units.  Mr. Alter  suggests  a separate entryway to leave outer clothes and to wash hands, bathrooms with more partitions, and kitchens that are no longer open to other rooms.

Look for a return to a more minimalist design in new builds, along with a new emphasis on bigger balconies with flow through ventilated air into units. Expect that new buildings will feature every bedroom having an opening outside window,  closer access to gardens and outdoor areas, and better ventilation in apartment halls and common areas.  Proximity to parks and open spaces will also be on trend. Here’s a thoughtful compilation from Lloyd Alter on where the  pandemic will take design innovation.

Meanwhile take a look at this YouTube video from Toronto where the developer of  “The One” at Yonge and Bloor  thinks he is building an 80 storey “pandemic proof” condo building. The comments below the video are good comedic discourse on this building and the developer’s new endeavour.

Image: nationalarchivesusa


  1. Unsaid is the recent observed trend in real estate markets back to single family homes since Covid-19 developed. Nobody wants to share elevators, door knobs etc with up to hundreds of strangers a month. The townhouse market is also doing well, condos not so much.

  2. Just as Vancouver residents only relatively recently discovered they could enjoy sitting outside in cold weather out of the rain at restaurants (even without those ghastly sky-warming heaters), I predict we’ll figure out how to enjoy a lot more outdoor activities this fall and winter:

    eg school classes, cycling, walking, group meetings wherever there’s a roof and open walls, dance classes and choir practices in covered school yard buildings….

    One example: it’s not too hard to gear up to stay warm and dry while cycling in all but the fiercest rainstorms.

    Another personal example: I have become acclimatized to writing in my journal every morning at a table covered from rain, outside, no matter what the weather. OK, my coffee and fingers get cold pretty fast when it’s freezing, but I now still prefer it to sitting inside.

    After all, people lived mostly outdoors here (without Gortex!) year round for many centuries not that long ago.

  3. The hallway doubling as bathroom in the treehugger apartment design may work for some, but it also means that you will be standing naked in your hallway at some point since your dry clothess will be in the hallway. There is a new hallway door in the design but it also means that there’s going to be some things out in the hallway like hooks for hanging clothes, bath towel bar(s) and shower mat.
    Now with that new hallway door, can it be locked? If so, that means any occupants in the rest of the suite have a barrier to egress (in case of fire).
    At least it means there’s a nice tile floor in the entry hallway.

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