What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for the future of the built environment and those who develop, design and build it?
It’s a heavy question that global architecture, design and planning firm Gensler looked to tackle in its annual Design Forecast. The report offers research, trends and case studies across 28 practise areas to help people identify the opportunities to help them succeed.
Blurring the line
One of the emerging themes is flexibility.
As many workers have had the line between their workplace and their home become more blurred during the pandemic, they are beginning to view spaces differently.
“Spaces that have been used in one way are now being repurposed and retooled,” said Jason Santeford, Gensler’s managing director for Vancouver. “The way we interact with our spaces is going to be fundamentally different, especially as people begin to return to work.”
He noted workers have gotten a taste of working from home during the pandemic, prompting many companies to look at hybrid structures.
“The genie is out of the bottle and I think the majority of workers would prefer some sort of hybrid model. What our data is saying is that people really want to be in the office. They crave that connection. They want to be social. But not every day.”
Santeford explained offices and homes will need to adapt as homes become more office-like and offices become more home-like. Instead of cubicles, there will be more collaboration spaces for people to connect. For housing developers this could mean more of a focus on providing work from home amenities like office facilities instead of gyms or pools.
“We have the opportunity to re-imagine the spaces that we design: offices, schools, residential buildings,” said Santeford. “Some amount of adaptation will have to occur but the ones who adapt quickly will be most successful.”
Health and climate are also top of mind. Santeford said on the micro level, design elements that may have only been considered for hospital projects, like special ventilation or self-disinfecting surfaces, could become more of the norm in other settings. On the macro level, the health of the entire planet has been a steadily growing concern as more and more building owners and developers are thinking about the impact the built environment has on climate change.
“As you zoom out from buildings to cities to countries, it is individually a drop in the bucket but collectively it can do a lot,” said Santeford.
Another impact the pandemic has had is acceleration.
Santeford explained many of the trends the forecast identified in its data were things already underway. But COVID-19 has pushed them forward.
Much of the report was informed by two large surveys Gensler organized at the beginning of the pandemic and in the fall. Gensler’s own network of researchers, the Gensler Research Institute, regularly conducts surveys of companies, employees and others.
“These are certainly uncertain times, but because we have such an investment in research, we feel confident that what we are hearing reflects the reality of the trajectory,” said Santeford. “I feel like the industry and the whole world has been paused for the year. This is the perfect time for this forecast to come out, before things get going again and before people have made decisions. This is really going to help guide people. We are going to emerge from this together.”
The full forecast can be found here.
Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.