Designing for Social Distance Requires Creative Solutions

Modular systems and flexible use of shared spaces are priorities as urban designers begin to consider how design requirements will change in the future.

1 minute read

May 14, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


Homeless Shelter

Whitley Evergreen / King County

Efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus are prompting creative, life-saving design interventions. The past few months have seen the repurposing of buildings and even shipping containers as medical facilities and the retrofitting of hospitals to facilitate distancing. In the coming months and years, schools and offices will be redesigned to meet social distance protocols. 

According to Starr Herr-Cardillo, "many of the pandemic’s most enduring influences over the built environment won’t be felt during the pandemic itself. They will evolve over the next several months and years." Architects, not typically considered to be first responders, are spearheading design interventions that will have a lasting impact on the built environment. 

In Philadelphia, the Community Design Collaborative’s Design SWAT team, a design collaborative offering pro-bono design services to community organizations redesigned the local Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission to include handwashing stations, repurposing the dining hall as a "functional multi-purpose room."

Architects predict that modular systems and flexible use of spaces will be key as retrofits and redesigns are prompted as a coronavirus response. Research is underway and it is possible that "careful evaluation across institutions might help identify those small, innocuous-but-critical design factors that made a difference."


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