In 2002, Blur Building came into being that was designed by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio which was one of the iconic masterpieces that served no purpose. “It looked like a bare industrial platform surrounded by a mesh of tubes and scaffolding” (Kenniccott 2020). When functional, tons of water were streamlined towards the building from Lake Neuchatel (Switzerland), and by the time it reached the building it got converted into mist and fog that engulfed the building. The visitor then enters into a cloud giving a feeling of walking over it and ascending. Would the building have survived if it would have been made in the present times after the pandemic? The building whose base thought was the feel of air and mist around oneself has now become a nightmare for all the mysophobic beings.

Rethinking the Urban Spaces: Impact of Pandemic on Architecture - Sheet1
The Blur Building, atop Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland_ ©Diller Scofidio and Renfro

Throughout history, pandemics have always shaped cities. In 1933, the Finnish architect Hugo Alvar Henrick Aalto with his wife Aino finished the Paimio Sanatorium, a facility for the treatment of tuberculosis in southwest Finland. The building features were revolving around the protagonist of this story i.e., the tuberculosis patients. Here the architecture itself was part of the cure. Le Corbusier in his time lifted his designs to keep the building away from the humid ground to avoid contamination. Adolf Loos in one of his Villas included a separate space to quarantine sick people of the house. This was how architecture evolved. Every pandemic brought with it a challenge around which the design of the building has to work around.

But was Covid the end of social and interactive lives? Was it the end of urban public spaces ? Was it the end of rich and intellectual street life? The answer was no. The pandemic was a call to rethink everything, it was an opportunity to improve the pedestrian experience, to counter the increased number of vehicles on the roads. “Social stability across the generations requires that we live in fluid, multigenerational communities, integrating rather than isolating or alienating the young, the working-aged, and the elderly” (Kenniccott 2020). 

“In most cities, the routine of social life was made up of exactly the kinds of businesses that had to close during the pandemic: restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafés. The new development was happening in the commercial sector” (Chayka 2020). Due to the pandemic, the free urban spaces like parks , streets, open cafes, and pedestrian markets that encouraged interaction, and social life and which added to the life of the city have now become devoid of human beings. With the invention of new and new covid laws, these were the spaces which were affected the most. They lost the richness and the social authenticity that was given to them by human beings. “But these empty lanes provide new possibilities for people to use streets for essential trips and healthy activity right now, forming the outline for the future cities we need to build” (Khan 2020).

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Illustration showing the scenario when there are no cars on the roads during the pandemic and how they converted itself into an urban space

Streets in historic times acted as a catalyst for social life. All the social interactions, and intellectual discussions used to happen on the streets. Streets were the basic need of all the vendors, it was home to some homeless, and they served many purposes at a time. Slowly time evolved, modernism and industrialization got hit and the whole purpose of the streets revolved around automobiles, making them the protagonist and pedestrians became the endangered species. Now post the pandemic it is clear that our streets have more to serve. They automatically evolved into spaces catering to the ease of the people.

Around the world, streets are providing space so people can safely access their necessities. They got converted into a space to queue outside a grocery store and other shops. They provide room for the pedestrians to maintain social distancing. They got converted to spaces for pop-up medical and testing locations and distribution points for necessities. The streets in themselves have evolved from the time before the pandemic to the time after the pandemic. They have organically taken a shape so that they could be accessible by all.

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Showing different functions of Streets_©Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery
Rethinking the Urban Spaces: Impact of Pandemic on Architecture - Sheet4
Showing different functions of Streets_©Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery

For future coming pandemics also, the architecture would keep evolving around the needs of the beings and the spaces we create today will provide a better foundation for our future cities.

Protesters, seen from above, maintain social distancing at the ‘Black Flag’_© Tomer Appelbaum

References:

  1. Kennicott, Philip. (2020). Designing to Survive. The Washington Post Magazine.

Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/07/13/pandemic-has-shown-us-what-future-architecture-could-be/?tid=usw_passupdatepg [ Accessed: 13 July, 2020].

  1. Chayka, Kyle. (2020). How the Coronavirus will Reshape Architecture. The New Yorker.

Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/dept-of-design/how-the-coronavirus-will-reshape-architecture [Accessed: 17 June, 2020].

  1. Sadik-Khan, Jenette. (2020). Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery. NACTO.

Available at: https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/NACTO_Streets-for-Pandemic-Response-and-Recovery_2020-05-21.pdf   [ Accessed: 21 May 2020

Author

Pratishtha is an architecture graduate, for her architecture is not just about building structures, it's about how others experience those structures. Her belief is that architects are the ones who could invent different ways to choreograph user experience and convey their intent either through loud writing or silent aura of their design.

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