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.