‘Re-building’ after the pandemic | Daily News


Architecture post Covid 19

‘Re-building’ after the pandemic

We are now emerging into a certain stage called ‘Life After Lockdown or Post Covid19’.  This is happening in varying degrees throughout the world. In Sri Lanka, lockdown restrictions have been removed. However, social-distancing and other health restrictions still continue.  People are now going back to their workplaces and children will be resuming their schooling soon.  

 Removing certain restrictions does not mean that the threat is over. In fact, this is the most crucial period of the virus outbreak. Throughout the world, life after lockdown will take different forms. This is when the strategy adopted by each and every country will be tested. For many years to come, we will have to think differently and appropriately, particularly in respect to built environment.

The Daily News speaks to Head, Department of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Chartered Architect, Dr. Upendra Rajapaksha on  the design, construction and use of  buildings in response to Covid19.

 We cannot let our guard down. We still need to practise social distancing and take precautions. People are talking about the possibility of a second wave or third wave. This can be very possible if we are complacent. The last few months have taught us the price some countries have had to pay for not taking quick action. We need to accept the fact that our lives will change and have changed.  And for the time being we cannot go back to 100 percent normalcy. Where Sri Lanka is concerned this is indeed the most crucial period. We have contained the virus admirably. Now how do we prevent another second or third wave of occurring with the country opening up? This is where the built environment needs to play its part both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the globe.   

 Importance of self-dependency

“In most situations, the way we design and construct our buildings in Sri Lanka is not the best possible way for sustainable living, both at residential and work. An incompatible people-environment relationship has become commonplace due to a misalignment between personal preferences of building owners or investors and environmental concerns. Most contemporary buildings and built environments pose extensive threats to sustainable living at present.

This is an issue to be discussed and addressed. Further, our buildings are not designed to withstand a pandemic or any climate related disaster. With the COVID19 pandemic and the difficulties that followed it, most of us have realized the importance of self-dependency for food, health, shelter and prosperity. Thus, in the way forward for the next 100 years, we need to think differently and appropriately, particularly in respect to built environments,” said Dr. Rajapaksha.

 Different perspectives

Dr. Rajapaksha points out that the first step in moving towards the future is to redefine the quality of life associated with buildings and look at it from a different perspective.

“A new ‘currency’ of measuring Quality of Life is needed, recognizing that human well-being and prosperity and environmental concerns are interdependent.  The present ‘currency’ of measuring Quality of Life is misleading with fragmented approaches of satisfying isolated needs and indicators in various disciplines like developers’ willingness, their market appraisal, economist’s maximum profit, technologist’s efficiency, local planning legislations, building users’ self-comfort and also a willingness to luxurious living.  In the new definition of Quality of Life, it is important to understand that people with eco-centric attitudes and altruism are more likely to behave coherently for a better Quality of life for everyone and generations to come. A building, in this new definition, with ecologically sustainable features (or bio-climatic design) could be considered as future oriented compared to buildings that satisfy anthropocentric attitudes. Therefore, it creates a great challenge for policy makers, building design professionals and developers to determine the type of buildings and neighborhoods in post COVID19 era.  Bioclimatic design is considered to be an ideal future- oriented climate matching design initiative. It is seen as an appropriate basis for climate and environment responsive design which involves the way buildings filter the negative effects of climate and engage with the environment for occupants’ comfort and sustainability of the environment,” stated Dr. Rajapaksha   

 Architect’s expertise, a must

 In America, the death toll has reached over 120,000 and on CNN we have seen the mass graves in Brazil, a country recording over 50,000 deaths. If you have seen the news, these are countries that have been crippled and devastated by Covid19. What all countries have in common is the need and urgency to harness the talents of their architects and come up with a plan or strategy for the built environment. Dr. Rajapaksha hit the nail on the head when he points out that it is the architect’s expertise and intelligence that is required when creating buildings.

He points out that we need to think beyond the challenges coming from the COVID 19 pandemic when designing buildings. This devastating situation has brought more challenges to the current practice of buildings and neighborhoods. We prefer to live in urban centered neighborhoods due to many reasons. Sometime in the next 100 years, urban migration may be reversed back to the rural settings. Therefore, the way the buildings are designed will need to have a new direction. We are now compelled to adapt our buildings to any disaster, or scenario in the future. This is a common challenge for any nation, whether they are in Asia, Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa or in America. We need to learn and live in response to the environment. We know that in offices we need to maintain social distancing. And one day we will have to go back to our offices.

 Organizing and composing internal spaces

 “It’s a matter of organizing and composing internal spaces to facilitate various functions in an orderly manner - human behavior, healthy air quality, required lighting and comfortable air temperatures inside buildings while contributing to avoid any negative impacts on the environment and surrounding context. For example, in an office, the need for social distancing can be created in the composition of the building design at the early design stage. A talented architect is capable of manipulating spatial orchestration in a manner that facilitates this need when required by the design brief. No need for any signage or instructions physically. If a house is designed with an enjoyable and diverse spatial ambience, dwellers do not feel stressful even in a longer stay or lockdown. This is a timeless and qualitative State-of-the-Art technology that the architect can bring forward to the design. This is not a challenge but an opportunity.”

Prof. Rajapaksha further added that in Architecture, the way the spatial entities are composed in a holistic built environment, can promote the intended behavioral pattern of users and therefore provide a sense of safety. If a building is designed appropriately, spatial arrangement can enhance safety of occupiers. This is a fundamental design objective of any building project.  

“Design of buildings is a holistic approach involving  respect to users in a broader and collective manner. Composing internal spaces in terms of quantitative attributes such as size, volume, connectivity and orientation and qualitative attributes such as spatial ambience, visual connectivity and sense of belongingness, in a creative and organized manner can easily facilitate the movement pattern of the occupiers. For example, there can be a space for isolated work while maintaining subtle interaction with others. This is a simple task for an architect,” explained Dr. Rajapaksha.

 ‘Loose Fit Buildings’

We know that there are many types of occupations in the world/societies. But how will our office spaces need to evolve in order to meet the Post Covid19 requirements of those occupations? Here Dr. Rajapaksha introduces a concept called ‘Loose Fit Buildings’. Buildings are designed for specific functions and specific occupations he says. Once the design Brief is developed, orchestration of spatial entities in the design can facilitate qualitative and quantitative needs of specific occupations. This is of course the ordinary practice of architecture.

Evolution of space can be user specific depending on the need of the user. Evolution of office spaces can also be multifaceted depending on various design considerations such as climatic effects, socio-cultural values, location and materials used.  In addition to this, there is a new future- oriented design concept called “loose fit buildings’.  It focuses upon the flow of different types of functions and occupations to the same building over a longer life cycle. This is a new sustainable design concept that can facilitate different functions from time to time. With this type of concept, there can be embodied energy savings in the construction. 

Appropriate HVAC systems

When an AC unit is turned on, air flow from the vent pushes droplets through the air and potentially into other people. However, the question of airflow behavior can easily be handled by an appropriately designed HVAC system (Heat, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) which could be simplified to avoid a mix of air between spaces. Architecture of buildings can facilitate to accommodate appropriate HVAC systems. However, the challenge is not this, but the supply of natural air flow and ventilation in a required manner without environmental heat gain in warm humid climates like Sri Lanka. 

Buildings can be ventilated in mixed and nocturnal mode scenarios to avoid heat gain during daytime and to provide clean air despite outdoor air pollution. Manipulation of plan form, sectional form and envelope properties in collaboration with multiple pressure fields within the internal volume can optimize the aerodynamics of the building form to regulate airflow path in a single direction and also without crossing multiple territories. This is a unique feature of bio-climatic design. Use of good health practices with washing stations, motion sensors, voice activation and face recognition are beneficial and could become ordinary elements of future buildings.    

 Urban design

 If you take urban design it involves not only buildings but parks and recreational places – malls and theatres. The resilience of urban neighborhoods and public buildings for any future scenario can be maintained when proper design interventions are integrated. 

Maintaining the needs of people in these areas for health and safety can be prime considerations when placing and planning public buildings, recreational spaces, walkways and open areas. Refitting the existing facilities in accordance with public health guidelines is required. Refitting can be aimed at promoting social distancing, controlling user density at a time and increasing efficiency of the functions. 

This could be performed by improving non-structural components of a building with a moderate cost. Refitting of public places is flexible due to their inherent character. The present crisis situation can be used as an opportunity to improve existing buildings, neighborhoods and other infrastructure.

Dr. Rajapaksha added that design initiatives for adapting buildings for future scenarios can be ecocentric and latitude specific, therefore diverse. Buildings could be resilient to devastating situations if they are integrated with appropriate interventions at the early design stage. For example, of the many factors that need to be considered when designing such buildings, climate and effects of climate on buildings remain a catalyst in any situation.  

When the building-climate interplay is not healthy for maintaining a comfortable indoor environment, extensive use of engineered energy for operational needs becomes imperative and creates problems such as increase of energy production from non-renewable resources and associated carbon emissions contributing to increase of global warming.  

Since different countries have different types of environments and climates, latitude specific design solutions are required to optimize the building-climate interplay and then to promote comfortable indoor climates with reduced or zero demand for gray energy. Therefore, there is a clear difference in approaches to design future- oriented buildings. Simply in other words, foreign models do not fit with the warm humid climate in Sri Lanka. A climate-mismatched building design becomes a generator for increasing energy demand and thus carbon emission, says Dr. Rajapaksha.  

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