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7. Buildings & cities for a next normal

Return to July 2020 Update

Length: 12 min read; 2425 words. Includes the following 7 subcategories:


Note: The following paragraphs summarize the category of Buildings & cities for a next normal observed in June. More information about the specific category from June (and previous months) can be found in the downloaded report(s).The number in square brackets (e.g., [30]) 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 May we introduced the Buildings and cities for a next normal category as architects, engineers, city planners, building owners, building managers, developers and the real estate industry started intensely discussing the post-COVID-19 built environment. The realization that COVID-19 is here to stay for a while prompted architects and engineers to start developing in the second half of May unofficial strategies and/or guidelines for workplace re-entry. The trend intensified in June; all largest architectural firms and institutions issued guidelines and/or strategies. In July the discussion about this topic increased in comparison to the June levels by 11% (from 25.8% in June to 28.6% in July).

Architects and urban designers continue to discuss the future of (healthy smart) cities [257][258][259][260][261] with safe commute [262] and green future, (suburban) migration [263] [264][265][239], public and commercial buildings and outdoor spaces [266][267], office re-entry [219][216][268]The results of the first architectural competitions for post-pandemic reality are published (such as “Rethink 2025” [269]). We can expect countless architectural competitions about the future. 

Infrastructure projects gained momentum in July due to governmental stimulus bills [214][215] . Warehouses, data centers, renovations and public buildings are discussed more than residential and offices and we expect this trend to continue in the following months. The future workplace is discussed and it will embrace hybrid reality.[216]

One of the first office building with coronavirus-fighting features has been constructed. [195] “As sports and entertainment arenas, retail centers, and faith spaces begin to open, and all of us emerge from our homes and begin to re-engage with our communities, the one thing we will be looking for is an underlying trust in the places and spaces into which we’re emerging. Creating a healthy urban experience requires aligning space, culture, interaction, and behavior. However, the biggest challenge ahead is finding ways in which design can rebuild trust and communicate clearly how health and wellness well-being is considered in the built environment.” [258]

7.a) Healthcare facilities

The focus of discussion in July is on hospital and healthcare facilities response to support COVID-19 care (e.g. in New York, at 11 acute care hospitals along with 5 post-acute/long-term care facilities), the way in which the new needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic (in New York) has caused changes in operations, layout, equipment, and approach in the facilities; with the design and construction considerations to be able to provide on-demand, walk-in COVID-19 antibody testing (in New York at 11 acute care hospitals, 10 community testing clinics, and more than 25 new pop-up sites across all boroughs).

Planning for the second surge of COVID-19 includes 4 areas: 1) air quality (pressure relationships, filtration/UV, exhaust, and controls); 2) enhanced capability for COVID-19 (monitoring, observation, dialysis, LTACH, quarantine); 3) Flex critical care (O2 + E) (increase capacity & availability); and 4) building capacity for ALL care (hot & cold units, clear barriers, reconfigurations, T2, telemedicine).

Collaborative efforts on testing: in New York City Hall, DCAS, SCA, DDC and H+H working together where City Hall/DCAS identifies space and provides support services; SCA + DDC build out space; H+H provides guidance for build out and operates space; 27 new sites operationalized since 5/15; 4 mobile units deployed; with approximately 12,000 test a day currently. “Working with military and the National Guard was a tremendous asset to bypass challenges.” [346]

The key lessons learned from the US Army Corps of Engineers that were preparing alternate care sites [347][348]: “We completed in mid of June (a couple of states came back to assess sites, no new work yet, but Arizona, Florida and Texas are asking for the expansion of the sites. So many lessons learned; the most important: 1) you need to stay ahead of the crisis – a month ahead at least to get the right projection; 2) The requirements will evolve -be agile; 3) Communication upfront is so important in AEC; 4) At the end everybody come together and said – this is the most I had fun; 5) Share lessons learned and best practices – continue communication and collaboration.” [347][348]

The strategy of getting patients and staff back into clinical environments is to reduce fear, rebuild trust, reassure, and communicate clearly how their well-being is considered. The return of high-volume patient care will require a carefully choreographed course of immediate actions and long-term efforts.” The strategic framework includes: 1) Outreach and access; 2) balancing care and capital; 3) transformation. [349]

7.b) Offices

In the previous report we highlighted designers discussing and offering different strategies for office re- entry but in July the most important news was one of the first new office buildings in the US constructed with coronavirus-fighting features. “The 90,000-square-foot Fulton East office building in Chicago was under construction when the outbreak hit; it has been engineered for maximum social distancing, touch- free operation and air and surface sanitization. To help reduce the spread of germs and viruses, the building utilizes MAD Elevator Inc.’s Toe-To-Go hands-free elevator system and the airPHX air and surface sanitization system that the company claims reduces up to 99% of viruses, bacteria and mold on surfaces and in the air. Other health, safety and wellness enhancements include: 1) touch-free thermal scanning at the lobby security desk to check temperatures of people entering the building; 2) touch-free key fob access and security system, pre-wired for future BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) accessed via a mobile phone; 3) touch-free, after-hours security/building access/intercom/elevator access system; 4) nonshared 9-by-27-foot private outdoor balconies on each floor; 5) an 8,000-square-foot rooftop garden for individual use and small group meetings; 6) restroom walls painted with Sherwin-Williams Paint Shield that is said to kill greater than 99.9% of Staph, MRSA, E. coli and other pathogens within two hours of exposure.” [195]

The discussion about the future of workspace and workplace re-entry continues in July (more information in the WFH and Workspace re-entry sections above under Procedures of shifting workflows). Workspace will change dramatically when a portion of the global workforce will return in offices.

Up to 90% of global workforce in companies is still working remotely [219]. A “new” workspace will be “modified in strategic ways, incorporating new practices, new protocols, and new technologies.” [216] WFH indefinitely is not sustainable for culture and talent development (“nor is it a replacement for the speed of trust and collaboration that's built through face-to-face work”); hence hybrid solutions are being imagined, developed, and start to be implemented as the economies reopen. [309][216]

Short-term strategies (during pandemic) include: rethinking meeting spaces, implementing building-wide cleaning protocols, focusing on indoor air quality, and updating safety measures. Building owners and companies eventually plan to return “between 20% to 80% of their people to the office”, gradually increasing the percentage as confidence in the safety of the work environment increases. 10-100% of workforce will continue to WFH, while the remaining percentage will use “de-densified offices with employees spaced farther apart.” [216] Return to workplace should maximize physical distancing, minimize direct interaction, reduced workstation density, track actual utilization; ensure safe and sanitary workspace. [268] The 6-feet rule will guide architects in a post-COVID world [311]. The future hybrid workspace reality includes integrated digital collaboration tools, next-level conferencing, sensors, AR/VR and other smart technologies. [216][312] 

Hub and spoke office models7 have been discussed [239][295]; they are not new concepts [350], and they might be the answer for specific companies in the post-pandemic environment. “HQ will still be the cultural hub but may have only 30% of employees working from there on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, executives want more flexibility when it comes to real estate—both for their people and their leases. They’re looking to supplement with flexible spaces that serve the needs of their employees.” [350]

7.c) Residential buildings

Experts suggest that the future brings increased demand for residential, and growing demand for converting traditional malls into residential mixed use. A very large percentage of people will choose to WFH, even if it is just one to two days a week – this will change shopping habits; retail being close to residential and multifamily becomes more important.” [351].

Housing crisis (shortage of housing due to rapid urbanization and lowered construction output) is generating innovative strategies: 1) embracing modular design; 2) investigating mixed-income solutions; 3) spotlighting the new co-living lifestyle; 4) exploring emerging housing models for seniors; 5) designing for functional convertibility. [352]

Nevertheless the demand, the residential sector in AEC is expected to struggle as economic activity weakens and unemployment rises, despite low interest rates and direct government support - here is a high risk that a large proportion of early stage projects in these sectors might be cancelled or pushed back.[210] Affordable housing is one of the targets in the $1.5T US stimulus bill. [214]

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

Retail and entertainment industries have received the strongest economic hit in the pandemic; GlobalData estimates that up to 20% of U.S. malls may close, and that more Ch. 11 retail filings are likely. [351] Nevertheless, the experts are optimistic claiming: 1) The pandemic won’t kill physical retail; 2) Outdoor malls have the advantage; 3) Still betting on live, work, shop mixed use; 4) Experiences matter, but the pandemic has redefined them; 5) Retail survival of the fittest. [351]  

Gensler suggests that public mix-use and retail centers should be designed to create human-centric districts, with shared and on-demand experiences, vertically integrated yet tied to the street, and designed to “do more with less” resources and land.[267]

Americans continue to be “fearful and frugal” (“Is it safe to shop?”). [117] Public libraries should “renew its purpose as an inviting and accessible community resource and meeting place”: 1) address the digital disparity; 2) continue to explore touchless library experiences; 3) explore future models: service-focused, hyperlocal; 4) the start of a new chapter with open dialogue. [353] E-commerce is placing focus on warehouse management. [333][121][354]

Stadium construction continues (e.g., 7 pro soccer stadiums across the US) [196]; while Spain’s La Liga started using crowd noise from EA Sports’ FIFA video games to bring more ambiance to televised matches and empty stadiums (audio clips are inserted in real time based on action on the pitch). Gaming tech is also helping add virtual crowds to empty stands [355]Gensler experts suggests strategies to bring sports back to venues: Phase 1: The Immediate Term ( 1) Cleanliness and sanitization is key; 2) Reexamine team spaces and operations); Phase 2: The Return of Fans to the Venue ( 1) Deliver a friction- free experience at the gate; 2) Rethink food and beverage and concessions; 3) Implement touchless technologies; 4) Address health and safety concerns within restrooms; 5) Introduce seating bowl interventions; 6) Signage and wayfinding are critical); Phase 3: A Reimagined Future ( 1) Touchless entry experiences will become the norm; 2) Integrate biometric technologies into venue design; 3) Forgo static signage for dynamic, changeable digital signage; 4) Revamp cleaning methods; 5) Design a cohesive experience, from start to finish.) [356]

7.e) Education; Buildings

The construction sector of higher education facilities is experiencing one of the lowest proposal activity in the second quarter (-45%). [203] The discussion about reopening schools in the US heats up as the number of infected cases reaches its peak in July. [317][357][358][359] Although the risks of keeping schools closed outweigh the benefits [360], the officials should keep the shools closed until the number of newly infected cases substantially drops. [361] Current CDC guidelines for schools to reopen include strategies to keep children safe, such as keeping desks six feet apart and use cloth face coverings for children, closing of communal areas like dining rooms and playgrounds and the installation of physical barriers like sneeze guards where necessary. [362] Some countries like Kenya will keep the schools closed until 2021.[363] Universities and campuses across the US are preparing for new academic year (the solutions range from fully in-person to fully online classes, mostly hybrid models; such as larger lecture classes administered on-line, with a percentage of smaller, in-person seminars.) [320] The immigration of international students in the US was questioned in July. [364][365][366] Dozens of US colleges are reportedly shutting down, in the first wave of closures in the history of American higher education. [265]

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

Since catching COVID-19 outdoors is 4 times less probable than indoors, the focus in July is on urban revitalization such as pedestrian possibilities (in New York) [367] and urban park reuse (in e.g., Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and Atlanta BeltLine) [368].

Besides the revitalization of cities and urban public spaces, the shift to health and wellness building design strategies will generate for US contractors an influx of new and retrofit work on hospitality facilities, such as hotels. Architecture firm Leo A Daly suggests that hotel owners and developers will put a greater emphasis on health-related features such as high-performance ventilation systems, indoor/outdoor architecture and antimicrobial finishes to heighten guests' wellbeing and safety. Hotels will be designed as hospitals. The technologies such as thermal cameras and automated systems (door openers or room controls to reduce touch points and indoor/outdoor dining or gathering spaces with air curtains to moderate climates for guests will become commonplace).

Contractors can expect a lot of retrofitting work needed immediately. For example, a full-service Marriott or Hyatt with carpet in rooms will need solid flooring that feels and looks cleaner. Getting rid of shower curtains and going to glass doors is another consistent change."[369][370]

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

Discussion about urban planning and revitalization continues. Some examples of urban public space revitalization [367][368] were mentioned in the Renovation / Revitalization / Adaptive re-use section above.

First results of architectural competitions for the post-pandemic environment such as “Rethink 2025; Get Everyone In” in urban zones [321] shows a shift towards cleaner, more physically active methods of transport; cleaner, greener, safer and happier streets [269]; ecologically diverse, agricultural landscape, addressing the premise that industrialized food production has made us vulnerable to diseases transmitted from animals to humans [371]; two issues which have been amplified by the pandemic; the need to house people who are homeless and the prediction that many office spaces will become permanently redundant [372].

Countless architectural competitions for reimagining cities and urban public spaces are expected. For example, Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge Competition aims to transform the bridge into a pedestrian-friendly structure and part of the public spaces of the city. [373] “How will we live together in the future?” The concept of smart cities should be re-examined in which “the use of technology is not the solution, but rather a tool to constantly renovate the social pact”.[374] The increasing traction of the anti-density movement in the wake of the current outbreak, brought about research showing that suburban sprawl increases the risk of future pandemics. “Vilifying the city is counterproductive” [263]. Urban foraging is becoming the new way to explore a city [375].

Previous June Category Summary


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[264] “Urban Flight: New Homes in the Move to Rural Living,” ArchDaily, Jul. 14, 2020. (accessed Aug. 27, 2020).

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[268] FM:Systems, “Strategic Planning When Returning to the Workplace - webcast recording.” (accessed Aug. 25, 2020).

[269] Rethink 2025 winners, Streets Are Made For Walking. 2020.

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[355] “Bloomberg Business on Instagram: ‘Spanish soccer has an answer to the flat atmosphere of crowdless matches: video game sound effects. Spain’s La Liga is using crowd noise…,’” Instagram. (accessed Aug. 29, 2020).

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[367] “Trading Notes Webinar: Urban Alternatives: Pedestrian Possibilities in New York,” The Architect’s Newspaper. (accessed Aug. 25, 2020).

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[369] “How COVID-19 is transforming hotel design, construction,” Construction Dive. (accessed Aug. 27, 2020).

[370] “The New Guest Journey,” issuu. (accessed Aug. 27, 2020).

[371] Rethink 2025 winners, Greater London Agriculture. 2020.

[372] Rethink 2025 winners, Get Everyone In. 2020.

[373] “Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge Competition Reveals 6 Finalists, Including a Proposal by BIG | ArchDaily.” (accessed Aug. 28, 2020).

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[375] “How urban foraging became the new way to explore a city.” (accessed Aug. 28, 2020).

Monthly Summary: 
AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - July 2020 Update