How to design more pandemic-friendly home and work environments

Hosted by

Some new housing designs might include balconies, more green space, and more open space. Pico Eleven apartments in Santa Monica, completed in 2018, is an example of housing with lots of open space. Photo courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architects.

Designers and architects are rethinking how to design space during the pandemic. That includes at home, at the office, and out in the world.

“You could almost say that the pandemic has threatened home life. Because suddenly home has to accommodate work, school, and all of our recreational needs when it’s raining, at least,” says Deborah Berke, Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University.

Freelance writer Kyle Chayka says interior spaces are changing. He mentions that he spoke to a New York-based architecture firm that was designing a 10-unit apartment building in Brooklyn, then suddenly decided to install more walls and balconies. 

“Having these separate spaces and being able to close off one space from another makes them more functional, I think. And a lot of architects that I spoke to also talked about acoustic divisions, where you could just feel like you had your own space and not feel like you were constantly bombarded by everyone else's presence,” says Chayka. 

Berke adds that while people living under one roof need acoustic divisions to get things done, every individual wants to be able to move from one space to another throughout the day for variety. 

“In terms of daily rituals, it’s a good habit to not have that first cup of coffee at the same table that you’re going to have the next eight hours of Zoom meetings. So you want to be able to move from one place to another, and if it’s one big room, that gets a lot harder to do,” she says. 

However, if you do only have one room and one table, Berke says changing the decor can make a difference.She gives examples: “Flowers on the table, candlestick at dinner time, cloth napkins, dimming the lights. Facing one direction when you’re on your computer, and going around to the other side of the table and facing the other direction when you’re having dinner.”

When it comes to designing new places for people to live, Berke says she thinks about more outdoor space, larger elevator lobbies, and separate bedrooms. “The idea of loft living is going to change.” 

Then there’s the office. The open floor plan seems to be dead now, says Chayka. “I can’t really imagine corporate offices coming back all that soon if people don’t need to be in them. … You can’t be in an open space where germs or bacteria are getting spread around by the HVAC system. And we just still don’t know what’s safe and what’s not. So I think if you’re going to have an office at all, you’re definitely going to have private rooms, less open spaces.”

Will there be a return of everyone getting an office with a door? “That seems like the healthiest, safest thing, doesn’t it?” says Chayka. 

However, Berke says she’s not strongly convinced that the private office will return because people go to work partly for interaction.  

“The communal nature of work is actually a pretty great thing. So I think what we are going to get better at is scheduling, using much bigger tables to meet over, to keep us apart, but allowing the collective creativity of working together to continue to flourish. And doing the rest of the stuff at home,” she says. 

Does this pandemic mean the end of skyscrapers? Berke says there are a lot of those tall office buildings sitting empty worldwide now. “We might want to figure out how to use them better. … I don’t know that it’s the end of the skyscraper.”

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel