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7. Buildings & cities for a next normal

Return to December 2020 Update

Includes the following 7 subcategories:

Length: 21 min read;  4,250 words.

Note: The following paragraphs summarize the category of Buildings & cities for a next normal observed in December. More information about the specific category from December (and previous months) can be found in the downloaded report(s).The number in square brackets (e.g., [X]) refers to a reference where the reader can find more infomation about a specific statement.  The references can be found in the References list below, Systematized References page or in the dowloaded report.


In December the interest in this category has remained on the same level as in September in line with overall dilution of pandemic-related articles. Only Residential buildings and City planning; Smart cities / Infrastructure / Landscape & marine projects have been discussed more than in September. The community is “taking a break” and returning to their usual discussion topics such as sustainable materials, building façade design integrated with other building systems and analysis various building projects and city planning. December publications bring reviews of 2020 architectural projects and awards such as Best Architectural Projects of 2020 [249] and Best Houses of 2020 [405]. The community continues to discuss future of the workplace and the office and strategic elements of post-pandemic workplace design [406][326]; the megatrends reshaping the architecture field and the construction industry (including 1) demographic growth and shift of economic powers: bigger economies, bigger challenges; 2) urbanization and smart cities: managing cities bigger than countries; 3) the revolution of technologies: from 3d printing to automation; 4) climate crisis: energy-efficient and low-footprint solutions; and 5) architectural challenges in emerging countries) [264]; future housing [407], mobile homes [408], castle cabins [409], lego-like modular houses [410], and cyberhouse design for apocalypse survivors [411]; Stefano Boeri pavilions for the Italian anti-COVID-19 vaccination campaign [412]; glass skyscraper ban in New York [413]; how has public space changed in 2020 [414] and how will past urban experiments shape the cities of the future [415]; drive-thru restaurant design revved up by the pandemic for a digital future [394][416][417]; distribution center and warehouse and micro-fulfillment space design [324][382]; justice, equity, diversity and inclusion [239][418][276]; infrastructure projects and green future related to stimulus bills [419]; real estate design strategies; post-COVID education; affordable housing; successful renovations; and the smart building technologies that can help return trust in spaces and places [74][75][402]. Architectural billings in December continue to decline since October.

7.a) Healthcare facilities

The pandemic has expedited various public healthcare projects in the U.S. such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ alternate care facilities ($1.88 billion worth of projects converting 38 venues in various locations across the country); and COVID-19 Centers of Excellence. For example, the New York city’s first COVID-19 Center of Excellence has been opened in December, one year faster than such public projects would take in pre-pandemic times. A new 22,000-square-foot medical facility in the Bronx with 40 exam rooms was built for the city’s public hospital system. The second Center of Excellence in Queens is currently being outfitted with medical equipment, while a third center in Brooklyn remains under construction. Besides these centers, New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has since March built two field hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens totaling 1,100 beds for COVID-19 patients; built 20 local COVID-19 testing sites, with another eight under construction and expected to be completed by the end of the year; expanded four NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene laboratories and equipped them with negative air pressure handling to accommodate COVID-19 testing; and developed eight mobile testing trucks that NYC Health + Hospitals can deploy to COVID-19 hotspots as they arise. under the construction management framework, DDC was able to look at past performance on similar projects, talk to references and make decisions based on those outcomes, much as a private owner or developer might do. [419] Modular construction has allowed required speed to build healthcare facilites. [420] The demand for personal protective equipment such as masks in the healthcare industry has been up to 40 times above pre-pandemic levels, putting great strain on supply chains. [421]

The pandemic brought a renewed focus on global wellness; from the boom in life sciences to the rise of telemedicine, the pandemic has had both an immediate and long-term impact on our healthcare system. [239] 2021 predictions for healthcare: organizations and doctors (provider) will focus on bringing in technology that allows for safe and seamless telehealth, along with real-time monitoring from devices that better empower patients (customer) to be served from home. [422] Digital surge in healthcare has been almost revolutionary. Covid-19 has led to the spectacular development of vaccines using novel mRNA technologies and countless smaller miracles. Obsolete IT-procurement rules have been binned and video-calls and voice-transcription software adopted. Machines are being maintained remotely by their makers. With patients stuck at home, doctors have rushed to adopt digital monitoring of those recovering from heart attacks. Organizational silos have been dismantled. In parallel, a boom in venture-capital-raising for medical innovation: $8bn worldwide in the most recent quarter, double the figure from a year earlier. JD Health, a Chinese digital-medicine star, has just listed in Hong Kong. Overall, more innovation is needed. Global health spending accounts for 5% of GDP in poor countries, 9% in rich ones and 17% in America. The industry employs over 200m people and generates more than $300bn of profits a year. But as well as being risk-averse, it is insulated from change. A rare chance to improve the quality of health care and lower its costs may vanish by the end of 2021. Exhausted health-care workers may prefer a rest to a revolution. Some of today’s medtech startups will disappear. A few big tech firms may try to monopolize pools of data. And the industry’s powerful lobbies will try to lock out competitors. [423] Experts predict Amazon and Walmart going deeper into healthcare via acquisitions. The dispersion of healthcare will be among the most exciting and disruptive transitions of stakeholder value in history. Walmart has the scale and incentive to make an impact, as well as some inherent advantages over Amazon. Rural Americans are closer on average to a Walmart than to a hospital, and as the largest private employer in the world, Walmart’s healthcare costs are its biggest expense after wages. The Bentonville firm already operates primary care clinics where an adult can get a physical for $30; it acquired Carezone, a prescription management app, in June. [250]

Stefano Boeri pavilions for the Italian Anti-COVID-19 vaccination campaign have been publicized even in non-architectural news outlets. The architects wanted to create an architecture that would convey a symbol of serenity and regeneration. Getting vaccinated will be an act of civic responsibility, love for others, and the rediscovery of life. Set on a prefabricated wooden base, the circular pavilion takes on a textile cover featuring a combination of different recyclable and natural biodegradable water-resistant materials. Moreover, “the roof will house a system of photovoltaic panels designed to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire pavilion. The partitions for the internal spaces will be created using prefabricated textile systems notable for their lightweight, flexibility, sound absorption, and transparency”. [412]

7.b) Offices

This topic has been discussed approximately 50% less in December in comparison to September, as the community is working on related workspace re-entry projects and less talking about office design. Offices are still almost empty in some parts of the world, e.g., New York city barely reaching 15% building occupancy and San Francisco is still in the 5-7% range. [424] The concept of office is changing permanently. There are two timelines: 1) a transitional period until we are all vaccinated (or herd immunity is achieved); and 2) post-pandemic office. Both are hybrid and flexible, though the first one was forced upon us. Gensler highlighted 5 trends driving the new post-pandemic workplace: mobility, worker’s choice where and when to work, privacy, unassigned seating, and health & wellbeing. [326] Since most of the workforce wants a hybrid work model [325], the companies are rethinking work models to go in line with their culture. For example, Google is testing a flexible workweek pilot that would have employees come into the office at least three days a week for "collaboration days", while Microsoft views working from home less than half of the time as "standard" for most roles. [327]

The companies are redefining the purpose of workplace and reconsidering their real estate. For example, in the UK some of the office space is reduced (up to 30% of existing office area) and the most of the space is reallocated via e.g., shared hubs. Given the hybrid workplace, the density or office area (sq. m.) per person is no longer the most useful measure for real estate going forward. Innovation and employee performance are now the most important measures. While the future space for each company is unique, the amount of space the company can drop depends on the three parameters: 1) the existing workplace density before and how they used the space before; 2) the purpose of their place going forward, i.e., how the space will serve their business and cultural goals; and 3) how often will employees routinely be onsite weekly and the peak occupancy average. When transitioning to a hybrid model, companies should focus on purpose, reinvention, be ready to embrace change, see things through the eyes of others, trust, and agility. [268]

Smart building technologies for occupant safety continue to be discussed. Specifically, HVAC and air filtration models and systems that are energy efficient as well [74][425]; access control and touchless tech (with potential privacy and liability concerns) [75]; and smart connected lighting system can now serve as the infrastructure to enable building automation [402](More information can be found in the sections for Adoption of (new) technologies and Building operations.)

7.c) Residential buildings

The volume of publications on housing increased 20% since September. Continuous (and/or increased) WFH is making us tenants to rethink organization of our workspace at home, and challenging designers to rethink the future of residential architecture. Residential architecture is one of the most popular categories among the ArchDaily’s readers. [405] Housing is a ubiquitous typology ripe for experimentation. Exploring form, view, materials and hierarchies, residential projects center on daily life and retreat. Designed to bring people together and provide space for isolation, homes can be open and inviting, secluded and private, or both at the same time. Castle cabins bring all these requirements together. [426][409] One residential trend that continues to rise forgoes the traditional permanent structure in favor of compact mobile spaces. [408] Pandemic-inspired Dwelling on Wheels (DW) offers off-grid living anywhere. With a solar array installed on the roof, a wood stove, accommodations for water tanks or a composting toilet, and two eclectic wall heaters as backup, the DW is more than equipped for off-grid living.[427] Future homes will be designed not just for able-bodied, nuclear families, but for the different needs that span multiple generations. [407] Lego-like modular houses can grow in parallel with the family. [410] Self-sustainability of housing and climate change preparations continue to be beloved topic among architects. December highlights include Dark Chalet in Utah that generates over 350% more energy than it needs [428]; a Colombian rural house that merges sustainability and productivity [429]; and floating home examples that could protect people from flooding as sea levels rise [430] A floating village in Amsterdam provides successful use cases [431]. 100% recycled plastic homes are envisioned. [432] Architects envision cyberhouse for apocalypse survivors. [411] Social housing should work on its reputation, especially in the U.S. [433]

In the U.S., residential construction has flourished during the pandemic in comparison to non-residential. [275] From April to November residential construction increased 17% and recovered 96% of the employment lost from February to April. [241] Housing demand is strong entering 2021, however the coming year will see housing affordability challenges as inventory remains low and construction costs are rising. [434] In Europe, residential construction had a decline of 8.6% in 2020, but experts suggest the market will regain significant momentum in 2021 with an expected growth of 4.7%.[243]

7.d) Commercial buildings & mix-use programs (retail, entertainment, hospitality, sports)

While travel, hospitality, and entertainment construction have dropped precipitously; distribution centers, e-commerce, and cloud computing have grown significantly. [238] After experiencing a world that has widely adopted hospital-grade sanitation protocols, people will continue to expect services and designs with the same high standards to help safeguard them from germs, viruses, pollutants, and more - whether they’re in a hospital, airport, hotel, or retail store. Creating (commercial) spaces and experiences that prioritize protection and comfort will be fundamental to ensure customers feel safe and to rebuild their trust. Designing for a changing world will require elevating service across every customer touchpoint. Leading with service across all channels, whether physical, digital, or virtual, will result in deeper connections that will drive loyalty, and ultimately, a better (shopping) experience. [435] The re-invention of retail include a) meeting customers where they are; b) enhanced customer service and personalization; and c) retail channel fluidity (VR/AR, mixed reality). [379] As e-commerce demand hits all-time highs, retailers are scrambling to find ways to get items to customers as quickly and cheaply as possible - one potential solution is micro-fulfillment, which is a hybrid model that uses smaller facilities much closer to consumers. Creating micro-fulfillment centers can be expensive up front for retailers, if they plan to lease warehouse space for a new kind of fulfillment center. A cheaper version is running a micro-fulfillment center from the back of a retail store. [324] Improving automation processes in warehouses and distribution centers is the most common near-term goal for e-commerce, logistics and food and beverage companies. [318]

Newly built SoFi Stadium provides is an outstanding example of digital technology network design. The technology includes the wireless networks (among the largest built anywhere), the server compute platform, the telephone system, the IPTV network, the indoor and outdoor digital signage (including the oval dual-sided 4K main videoboard), the television broadcast systems, and the building management systems – into one converged platform, with a single vendor/single format structure. What we delivered is a scalable platform that simplifies Day 2 operations on Day 1; said AmpThink president Bill Anderson. [436] Climate Pledge Arena, the future home of NHL expansion franchise the Seattle Kraken and WNBA team Seattle Storm, will be the first certified net-zero carbon arena in the world when it opens in October 2021. [437] Some 2021 predictions for hospitality claim that hotels (provider) will provide guests (customer) with technology to enhance experiences such as check-in prior to arrival, keyless room entry, and tech-enabled room controls. [422] Drive-thru restaurant traffic increased in the double-digits, prompting various chains such as Arby's, McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, to develop buildings with streamlined operations. The pandemic accelerated a need for digital menu boards, AI, expanding drive-thrus into dual lanes and adding drive-thru only units where available. [394]

In the U.S., nonresidential employment increased 9% from April to November, and recouped only 58% of lost jobs in the period from February to April. [241] Many hospitality, restaurant, retail, entertainment and office projects that were in the works prior to COVID-19 have been put on hold or canceled. Developers have had to recalculate on those deals using the pandemic’s new algebra, the common denominator of which is that any project that promotes mass gatherings, such as malls, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues, gets carried over into the negative column.[246] In Europe non-residential construction fell 9.2%, 2021 will bring a moderate gain of 2.5% in 2021. [243]

7.e) Education; Buildings

To effectively plan and manage a safe and efficient return to campus while planning for the flexibility required with the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities managers will be expected to identify, plan and deliver a safe and effective environment for return to the campus. Multiple objectives should be balanced and adjusted to each campus: safety first and foremost, and then support of a productive environment. Key measurements of success include student and employee health, real estate (efficient) utilization, and workplace productivity. Future outbreaks can be prevented by incorporating policies and procedures to maintain a safe and healthy environment. [438] No one could have planned the impact of COVID-19 on our world, including institutions of higher education. Facility units continuously strive to become proactive in their daily operation, so much so that it becomes part of their DNA. This pandemic turned that natural proactive instinct upside down and most of us found ourselves reacting to the constantly changing information on how this virus worked. The only hope for success was to react well using all our collective experiences. The facility management leadership team forged new partnerships with academic and research leaders to provide a safe, smart and healthy environment for continued learning and exploration. [271]

COVID-19 has fuelled a global ‘learning poverty’ crisis [439]. Ipsos surveyed adults in 29 countries on how they see higher education being delivered in 5 years’ time. The majority of surveyed think the split between online and in-person learning that’s come about during the COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay. Respondents in China and Japan were most likely to see higher education being delivered mainly in person. Just over half of the adults surveyed believe in-person learning is worth its cost. [440] Some U.S. colleges cut tuition, ending relentless price spiral. [441] Some 2021 predictions for education claim that students will use education technology to reach their teacher and learn as effectively whether they are 10 feet or 10 miles away from their in-person classroom. [422] On the other hand, some reports claim that virtual learning has been taking a toll on college student mental health; seven out of 10 students reported that they were struggling with mental health (exacerbated conditions like eating disorders or anxiety, unable to focus in classes) with 45% indicating they felt more stress than usual. Zoom office hours did not have the same level of education and support as in-person sessions with professors. [302] Increased digital transformation including automation has prompted university to include related coursework. [319] Virtual training and education, the use of prerecorded messages for safety meetings and virtual inspections have been efficient way to address challenges on construction site throughout the pandemic. [442]

Governmental stimulus bills for public projects and infrastructure, include school construction as well, e.g., in the U.S. [419] and Ukraine. [443] In the U.S., education workers will be eligible for vaccination in the second, 1b, phase, that includes essential workers, food and agriculture, utilities, firefighters, correction officers and transportation and construction workforce. [444]

7.f) Renovation/ revitalization / adaptive re-use projects

Real estate is retrofitting spaces to address the need for H&S of occupants and provide new experience to bring occupants back. Retrofits are more complex than new projects but now is the opportunity to act as the buildings are still mostly empty. [74][75][402] Fast food chains are converting their restaurants to drive-thru models to meet the customer needs. For example, McDonald's is still on track with its Experience of the Future remodels, which  include self-order kiosks, delivery systems, extra drive-thru lanes and renovated dining rooms, and expects to have 90% of its modernization efforts completed by the end of 2021 in the U.S [394] Grocery stores have been retrofitted with technological solutions stores want to decrease their operational expenditures that come from hiring cashiers and conducting inventory management. Amazon Go store is such an example. Earlier this year, Amazon opened a 10,400-square-foot Go store, about 5 times bigger than the largest prior location in Seattle. Computer vision AI-based system has been used to track people and products, and manage larger SKU counts. Amazon plans to penetrate the market much more quickly, as it claims that existing stores can be retrofitted in “as little as a few weeks.”[391]

Retail companies are converting empty stores into fulfillment centers. An example is Sam’s Club, a warehouse membership club. Due to increased e-commerce orders, the retailer converted stores into fulfillment centers and launched the Ship-from-Club service at 100 locations. Employees fulfill online orders from the store's inventory, accounting for about 20% of all e-commerce orders. The warehouse club also offers curbside pickup at all 597 locations. [382] Governments are planning conversions of workplaces to housing. For example, South Korea plans to add 114,000 homes for public housing by buying empty hotels and offices; and in Singapore, plans are underway to redevelop its central business district to create more residences, shops, restaurants and indoor farms. Experts suggest that it may be "far more feasible" to turn any unused offices into warehouse spaces for e-commerce companies that have seen a boom in demand during the pandemic; or convert offices into modern manufacturing facilities such as 3-D printing, vertical schools or urban farms are a far more feasible option. [445] Complex airport renovation projects are using latest digital technologies. For example, renovation aerial photogrammetry, a 4D scheduling model, laser scanning and 360-degree cameras have been employed in Skanska's $4B LaGuardia Airport [446]; and Boston Dynamics “robot dog” Spot has been used in progress monitoring on the renovation of the San Francisco Airport. [386] From published renovation projects we would like to highlight David Chipperfield Architects' renovation of Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie. [447]

7.g) City planning; Smart cities / Infrastructure / Landscape & marine projects

Three urbanization related megatrends will shape the post-pandemic future of cities: a) urbanization and Smart Cities: how to manage cities bigger than countries; b) climate crisis: energy-efficient and low-footprint solutions; and c) architectural challenges in emerging countries. The world’s population is projected by the UN to reach approximately 10.9 billion in 2100. The projected demographic growth will be driven mainly by cities. More metropolitan areas with a total population of more than 10 million people are expected. Based on the expected increased investment in digital technologies and diversification of supply chain in the post-pandemic economy, smart cities should expand rapidly in order to quickly gather enough real-time data to manage assets, resources, and services efficiently, while setting clear rules to protect people’s privacy. Even though the sprawl as an urban planning model might stage a (short) comeback, multifunctional buildings and mixed-use neighborhoods might be the face of necessary territorial transformations as the world fights to produce responsive low-carbon cities. Every year, 6.13 billion square meters of buildings are constructed. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) works as a global blueprint for designers, developers, policymakers, and citizens to implement strategic policies and market incentives that will change the pace and scale of actions in the global buildings market. These buildings should be designed according to the climatic conditions of the present and, to reduce waste, be built for a 100-year lifespan. While some dense cities, mostly in Europe, have already observed a refurbishment trend in design to help optimize the built environment, megacities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America must develop metropolitan-scale urban planning and management tools in order to establish long-term visions for their development and to be able to respond to potential metropolitan-scale social, pandemic, and climate crises in real-time. While some dense cities, mostly in Europe, have already observed a refurbishment trend in design to help optimize the built environment, megacities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America must develop metropolitan-scale urban planning and management tools in order to establish long-term visions for their development and to be able to respond to potential metropolitan-scale social, pandemic, and climate crises in real-time. [264] Sustainable city plans such as MVRDV’s Chengdu Sky Valley masterplan are placing emphasis on retaining the existing agricultural landscape, promoting self-sufficient lifestyles and designing with site-specific analyses in mind. [448]

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s City Pulse Survey, many people in global cities like New York, San Francisco, London, and Singapore were contemplating moves before the pandemic, largely due to affordability concerns. We found that as economies began to reopen, people started to resume the activities that they wanted to experience in person again, where virtual alternatives couldn’t compare, such as visiting friends and family, or visiting public open spaces. As we emerge from the pandemic, community building will be an essential part of cities’ revival. When people need to connect, spaces that allow for physical proximity will more often than not win out over virtual communities. There’s a radical reenvisioning of the public urban realm currently underway, creating true urban places where people can connect and community is restored. [270] City squares and public spaces in Brazil have been redefined and revitalized during and after the pandemic. A research by the University of São Paulo showed that 86% of the surveyed people wanted to spend time in green environments such as parks and squares. The square and it's potential for enhanced social participation. For the squares to be successful as a healthy gathering place, they need to have complexity. It needs to make sense to the people around it, to have several purposes, and to relate with other surrounding amenities.

The European Commission published ‘Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy’ together with an Action Plan of 82 initiatives, that lay the foundation for how the EU transport system can achieve its green and digital transformation and become more resilient to future crises. According to the plan, 100 European cities will be climate neutral by 2030. [223] [449] France’s first Vertical Forest will add a “hectare of forest” to Paris’ skyline. Designed for Villiers sur Marne in east Paris, Forêt Blanche will be a 54-meter-tall tower built predominately of timber. Two thousand trees, shrubs, and plants will cover the wooden facade—a green surface equivalent to a hectare of forest. [450] New York has banned glass skyscrapers as they are the greatest cause of greenhouse gases in the city.[413] To support the development of smart parks in 88 smart cities worldwide by 2025, of which the US is expected to account for 25 and the Asia-Pacific region is expected to account for 32, Envision Digital will combine its expertise in smart energy management (solar, wind and storage) and AIoT optimization and controls with Tridium's expertise in digital services for smart park and smart building management. [451]

Expected multitrillion dollar stimulus bill, Build Back Better, should push infrastructure construction forward, which encompasses everything from traditional roads and bridges projects to broadband, clean energy and school construction might bring the U.S. construction back on track. [419] Globally governments and institutions are investing in infrastructure, such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Government of Ukraine initiative to invest €640m in Ukrainian infrastructure. [443] Russian infrastructure construction spending is on track to decline 11.6% in 2020, followed by 2.2% growth in 2021.[218]

See September Category Summary


[218] “International Construction - December 2020”, KHL Group, Dec. 18, 2020. (accessed Feb. 07, 2021)
[223] S. PETROV, “Mobility Strategy”, Mobility and Transport - European Commission, Dec. 02, 2020. (accessed Mar. 02, 2021)
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[415] “How Will Past Urban Experiments Shape the Cities of the Future?”, ArchDaily, Dec. 20, 2020. (accessed Feb. 23, 2021)
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[426] “Dezeen’s top 10 cabins of 2020”, Dezeen, Dec. 06, 2020. (accessed Mar. 02, 2021)
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[433] “Social Housing: 45 Examples in Plan and Section”, ArchDaily, Mar. 31, 2019. (accessed Mar. 03, 2021)
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Monthly Summary: 
AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - December 2020 Update