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Architecture and Covid-19.

Last week a health expert, John Ashton, former Regional Director of Public Health for North West England, called on architectural professionals to “use their skills to fight the pandemic”. View article here.

In what way remains unclear, however examples are emerging from architects such as the Italian, Carlo Ratti, who has turned his skills as an Architect, to come up with a fast form of creating or extending buildings for emergency use.

He has taken inspiration from shipping containers to provide fast and immediate forms of construction, to add links to hospitals to create additional intensive care units. Such units could be constructed and prepared off site, brought to busy sites and extended in a matter of hours. View article here.

In the immediate future, creating an alternative re-use for dormant buildings, or looking how to quickly extend or re-plan facilities, may help with the immediate needs of this pandemic. Huge exhibition spaces are being converted into temporary hospitals, with announcements saying they can accommodate thousands of people.

A further thought on how architects can play a part in the fight, is the use of collaborative working. Architectural designers are some of the most skilled coordinators of information, bringing professionals of all forms of skill and specialism together to create a complete development. Could this be a way to utilise their skills, when reflecting on John Ashton’s comments?

Going forward however, what about the design of future homes and buildings, post pandemic?

Architecture and the built environment has a lot to answer for with respects to the concerns on transmitting the Covid-19 virus. Inner city areas are often contained within smaller footprints, offices and homes created as efficiently as possible, constructed as close together as reasonably possible. Developments in inner city environments often require as many units as feasible to make them financially viable. Open spaces within cities are sacrificed in favour of residential or office developments, due to both the value and inherent need for more space. The condensed nature of inner-city developments makes it a “hot bed” for transmittance.

At present, there are several examples of overcrowded cities being the epicenter of the outbreak, such as New York and what could eventually be London. England’s capital is already preparing for the worst given present statistics on the amount of cases and deaths due to Covid-19, by converting the Excel arena to form “Nightingale Hospital”. View article here. Will we see a change in design culture on future developments?

Even with the best intentions and desire to prevent the spread through social distancing, the social isolation in small contained apartments makes it difficult to sustain due to the lack of an outside aspect in many inner city homes. The lack of space or separation in open plan studio type homes, makes it impossible for several occupiers for remain separate, having space to themselves or protecting themselves from an occupier who is ill. For many, being contained in a small home with a limited change of scenery or outlook will prove to be difficult over a prolonged period of time.

And there is reason for that. Most city centre homes are not meant to entertain their occupiers for long periods of time. Most cities have a large population who long hours, have large social circles and social demands meaning, not a lot of time is actually spent at home. The city, it’s parks, its bars, shops and restaurants are all an extension of their living room. Remove access to these public areas, and what’s left over is a bed and not-so-very used kitchen.

Will Architecture change to reflect a change in culture, in terms of how we live and operate within cities?


Will new home designs include for an additional room space, to be used as a home office or space where family members can self-isolate, protecting the rest of the household? Much has been said of homes that accommodate various family generations, from young who may be less susceptible, to older ones who need to self-isolate for a period of months. It’s a terrifying thought, but perhaps one that ought to be considered, particularly in homes where there are vulnerable individuals. Will residential estates be limited in size for each area, so that one zone can be “locked down” to prevent transmittance to neighbouring localities?

The flexibility of future properties may also be considered with regard to the efficiency of a house to cope with the potential lack of funds to run it. Will shared communal heat sources be considered, where those that can continue to fund the heating, will allow the energy to be shared with households who are struggling? It’s proven that large residential areas using one heat source can often reduce running costs and wasted energy, when compared to individual heat sources split across a residential site.

What about how we ventilate our homes? In most properties we ventilate our home by opening a window, described as “purge ventilation”. In newer properties, there is a shift towards mechanical ventilation, a none compulsory option which draws fresh air in, cleans it and distributes it around the property. Filters can be added for homeowners that suffer from pollen – it could easily be transformed to minimise transmittance of airborne diseases.

What about the size of building plots? Will they be re-considered to put in mandatory minimum sizes of gardens, to offer greater self-sufficiency with respects to self-growing food?

A home designed with the long-term outlook of long-term self-containment, may be something considered post pandemic.

Whatever the outcomes with respects to Architecture’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that a community-based support network will allow localities to overcome adversity. Homes designed for the future with flexibility, protection and self preservation in mind, balanced with a view for self contained close knit communities, would likely be better prepared for a future pandemic.

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