Comfort in the times of pandemic | Daily News

Comfort in the times of pandemic

‘Ahead of us, is a global scale mega revolution of human social behaviour’ says Archt. Nirodha Gunadasa. Arch World features Gunadasa who points out that we can expect mega-scale changes in the structure of cities in the near future. 

There is a very popular quote that has been circulating for some time. The quote is – ‘It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.’ However, there is no substantive evidence that Charles Darwin said or wrote this statement. There is no doubt that the Covid19 virus has forced us to undergo change. Some people are unable to cope and some people are able to cope.

Those unable to adjust can be seen on CNN protesting against the use of masks claiming that it is their right to choose whether to wear masks or not. Though that cannot be seen in Sri Lanka we can see that amongst some, there is a certain reluctance when it comes to wearing masks properly. So there are certain other adjustments we also have to make when it comes to our behaviour, for how long, now one can say. 

Choosing things

 

ArchWorld questioned Gunadasa about what this new norm means for architecture in Sri Lanka.

“For example, think about a person who becomes 20 years old in 2024. That person has lived a large part of his/her life under the ‘new norm’. His/her way of shopping has been online. His/her way of choosing things is based on ratings and comments given by previous buyers. So after the pandemic, do you expect him/her to be comfortable or confident when it comes to shopping the way most of us did before the pandemic? It is very unlikely to happen. This behavioural change in society is going to prevail. It is going to prevail from generation to generation. Not only shopping, but it would also change the way we work, the way we play, the way we dine, the way we meet and the way we enjoy life. The entire urban life of coming generations is going to change,” said Gunadasa. 

He points out that ahead of us is a global scale mega revolution of human social behaviour. Cities being the built form of social behaviour, we can expect mega-scale changes in the structure of cities. Gunadasa adds that unless we correctly identify these changes, form a plan and address the questions that will come up, it will not result in sustainable urban form. So there needs to be an urban revival. In doing so we need to go beyond revising city plans and regulations. We need to rethink the form of the future city - the thoughts, needs and habits of the inhabitants of that future city.

“By the new normal, I don’t mean the temporary change of behaviour due to the pandemic. I mean the long term resultant change of social behaviour. We often hear the term ‘new normal’ being used today. It means that what we mean by ‘normal’ has now changed. There is no going back because the ‘normal way’ of living is now different.

New normal

But there is no need to be afraid of it. It doesn’t mean the new normal is bad. Perhaps it is better and much more sustainable. The ‘new normal’ will prevail forever. And this is not because the pandemic will prevail forever. The ‘new normal’ will prevail because society has got used to it and has realized it is the right way to be. We are on the verge of a great environmental crisis, due to increased carbon emissions to the environment. If we are wise enough, the ‘new normal’ will be the greatest opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of humanity on earth,” explained Gunadasa. 

He believes that Architects and Urban Planners can perform a vital role in this scenario. If our entire culture of urban life has changed, we need to carefully identify the social behavioural patterns associated with that change. And then reorganize our built environment to suit that social behaviour. The built environment is influenced by socio, cultural, economic and environmental factors. When that changes at a fundamental level it would trigger chaos. So Architects as professionals need to recognize this and intervene.

“Urban population growth patterns have been forecasted (I mean the urban population growth and not general population growth. Urban population growth happens because more people choose to live in cities). We have established goals for urban development accordingly. We have arranged city development plans accordingly. The city zoning plans and regulatory plans are done accordingly. When the fundamentals of social behaviour change, the expected urban population growth and the patterns will also totally change.

Therefore, unless we as professionals intervene and reevaluate the goals of urban development, our existing development plans will not generate a sustainable urban form for future generations. It will cause a massive waste of time and money. As Architects and Urban Planners, we understand the change of social behaviour and resultant changes in the socio-economic and cultural fabric. We intervene to bring about radical changes so our urban development efforts will be better directed towards building up the right city for future generations.” 

Environmental change

He goes on to say that making cities resilient is not a new idea. ‘Resilient City’ was an essential concept of city planning for many years now. A city should be planned to be able to withstand any kind of foreseeable shock. Let the shock be tsunami, earthquake, economic threat, terrorism or environmental change. Pandemic is only one of those threats. Unless we manage to arrange our monitory networks, disaster management systems, economic models and social organizations in such a way to face any kind of possible disaster, a city will not be able to recover from such urban shocks. Arranging those networks right is to make the urban form resilient.

In the aftermath of the pandemic the way the upcoming generations learn, the way they school, the way they play, the way they dine out and so forth will become different. It is the same with the way they shop.

The idea of a shopping mall today is a large open space, a social space to meet up, a place to play, dine, go to the cinema or go shopping together. The future shopping mall of the future generation is going to be something different from what we think today. Shopping malls will be there, but not in their current form and locations. What you mean by a shopping mall might be something different in the future. 

 “We must try and understand, maybe even imagine what a ‘shopping experience’ will mean in the future. What changes might there be? What will that experience be like? The way the spaces are organized needs to be thought from that perspective. The location of the shopping mall and its role as an urban element needs to be rethought.”

 
 
 

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