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Building for the New Normal - Materials and New Ideas for Design and Architecture after the Pandemic

12 January 2021

The pandemic in 2020 changed a lot. Really a lot. You could talk about digitalisation or remote working etc, but one thing is clear: the pandemic of 2020 will most likely not be the last one. After SARS, Ebola, and swine flu we can conclude that pandemics are most likely here to stay. BBC reported on this during the fall, and Professor Eric Fevre from the University of Liverpool says, "this kind of event is likely to happen again and again. It's been happening all throughout our interaction with the natural world. What's important now is how we understand it and respond to it.”


Written by Stefan Nilsson 


So how is architecture and design handling emerging questions about hygiene, cleanliness and the threat of a new pandemic?

New materials are constantly tested. At Chalmers University in Göteborg, Sweden, a new start-up called Amferia launched a material looking a bit like a band-aid. This surface material evidentially kills the virus causing covid-19. This is all very new. We might have to wait a bit until we see doors, desks and elevators covered with this virus killing material but the design and architectural world is looking for new solutions to stop spreading virus. At Aalto University, Finland studies are made to look at wood and health. Tiina Vainio-Kaila leads one of these studies and has found that the antibacterial properties of wood might reduce the possibility of cross-contamination from surfaces.



Winner of Träpriset 2020 by association Swedish Wood. Architects Anders Johansson and Anja Thedenius awarded for best wood architecture Atelje Södersvik. © Åke E:son Lindman

Wood is seen as a material with lots of positive effects. At University of Linköping, Swedish scientists are looking at wood as a material to improve health. Can ill people get well quicker in a wooden environment? Can we practically see wood as a medicine? Does it cure? In November 2020 a new project was launched at Skellefteå, Sweden to see how patients improve their health in a wooden room. In the future, doctors might be saying “take a rest in a wood-based lounge” instead of giving pills.


Ongoing research in Sweden into the healing properties of wood for ill people. Study at Skellefteå Hospital. © Joakim Bergström

Besides materials, there are also talks about how this virus is airborne. What can architecture and design do to address this?  Professor Lidia Morawska at Queensland University, Australia, has looked at corona and the pandemic from an aerial perspective. She claims that the airborne virus will force us not only to look at new materials but also at air quality. This is something that Swedish company Blueair also echoes as there is still relatively low general awareness around air quality indoors. Internationally, one can see how air quality is discussed with for instance Germany subsidizing air cleaners for schools. “I am sure we will see many more discussions of public buildings and how the air can get better. We are taking part in several projects in the UK where we see this and I am sure we will see much more of this in Scandinavia too,” says Alexander Provins from Blueair.  



These devices clean the air from germs up to 72 sqm and every twelve minutes.  ©  Blueair

Offices and buildings are not only about materials. They are also about people. There is much talk about how we will work when we go back to normal, and the majority of the people interviewed for this piece say that we will be back to a hybrid form. Two, three days at the office and two, three days at home. “The office will be the dynamic space where we meet to be creative and dynamic,” says Peter Ullstad at architects Codesign, “so our job is to make a space that is agile and kind of a cultural charging station.”



Real estate company Cushman & Wakefield's concept on how to build your office so you are not closer than six feet from your co-workers. ©  Cushman & Wakefield


Regardless of how fun and embracing the office will be, there will be new safety standards. One of the most talked about is “Six Feet Office” by Cushman&Wakefield. This is a new standard at, for instance, office spaces like United Spaces. The whole building is built around the concept that no one should be closer than six feet from each other. “Everyone at our buildings should feel relaxed and safe,” says Karl Garberg at United Spaces.



United Spaces new office at Torsgatan 26 in Stockholm that is designed after the Six Feet Office concept. ©  United Spaces


The pandemic has forced the way we see architecture and design. We might see new, healthy materials or new ways and behaviour, but change is here.




Building for the New Normal - Materials and New Ideas for Design and Architecture after the Pandemic
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