Commercial Design in the Time of Covid

Three ways we’ll see design evolve to meet the challenge of our time

No doubt, the current corona-crisis — may it be over soon! — will also leave its mark on design, especially those of shared commercial spaces. Even if we go back to “normal” tomorrow, our eyes have been opened. We know now, clearly, that sanitized, low-risk public and commercial spaces are crucial to keeping our population healthy.

Getting there is no small feat. The good news is, there are so many innovative design visionaries who’ve got our back. They’re already hard at work planning and deliberating, experimenting and specing out how the built environment needs to adapt to the post-covid reality. While it’s impossible to predict in this constantly evolving situation, here’s where we’ll probably be seeing key changes:

PHYSICAL DISTANCING

For the immediate future, until there’s a cure or vaccine, we need to go about our lives while maintaining our distance from each other. 

At the mall.

At the office.

At the library.

How do you watch a cooking demo at William’s Sonoma or check out the tees at Old Navy, without encroaching on the space of other shoppers — or staff?

Designers will develop designs that naturally incorporate social distancing, without sacrificing aesthetic. For instance, we may see larger wait spaces at restaurants (or outside) or even waiting “pods”. Retail stores will likely use displays and shelving that space products far enough to encourage distancing between shoppers. In offices, you’ll start seeing cubicles again (albeit more attractive forms), as well as plexiglass or other partitions between workspaces in open areas. 

GERM EXPOSURE

We’ve learned the hard way never to underestimate an itty-bitty microrganism. They may be microscopic, but they can wreak havoc on the entire world. Designers are already looking for ways to reduce the growth and spread of harmful microorganisms in shared spaces.

We’ll probably start seeing more building materials and components that fight bacteria and other microorganisms — some borrowed from existing materials in healthcare and perhaps newly developed ones too. Layouts will be streamlines and easy to clean, especially in spaces that tend to collect germs, like bathrooms. Self-cleaning toilets are already a reality. (When I can get one in my own home?)

And we’ll keep talking about clean air. More and more, developers will be asking questions about air circulation and filtration — what is really necessary and what can help keep people safe. 

 

AUTOMATION

At the same time, we’ll do whatever we can to minimize common surfaces that everybody touches — doorknobs, check-ins, buttons in an elevator. 

Automatic doors, lights, and faucets are just the beginning; we may have elevators we can talk to (“Sixth floor, please”) and hotel rooms we can open using our own cellphones. 

In fact, I won’t be surprised if automatic temperature-taking stations outside become the norm — like the telephone booths of yore.