Having been cooped up at home for the past month, the Movement Control Order has brought many renewed perspectives on what they require of a home, be it a home office or bedrooms to self-isolate. It has also brought employers and employees alike what they demand of their offices especially when they gradually return to their workplaces but still having to observe rules set in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We ask one of the most prominent architects in Kuala Lumpur, Hud Abu Bakar, principal of RSP Architects, on how Covid-19 will shape offices and living spaces in years to come.
There seems to be a unique form of architectural aesthetics that defines every decade. Will the architecture in this decade be defined by our adaptation and response to the pandemic?
Throughout thousands of years, architectural aesthetics have evolved by the influence and needs of climate, culture, religion and lifestyles. While it may not drastically change some of the existing architecture principles, the latest Covid-19 pandemic will definitely have an impact in shaping the future of architecture. Social distancing, hygiene and even some cultural changes will force us to rethink our everyday living and working spaces.
How will the pandemic and its implications change the way you conceive a master plan?
While the basic principle of planning remains, master planning at macro and micro levels needs to adapt and react to these new forces. At a macro level, we need to ensure there are central disease control centres, adequate hospitals and perhaps a convertible public buildings and schools for emergency use with a pre-planned medical infrastructure at the ready.
At a micro level, a township or residential master plan would have to be better planned by being in a smaller independent cluster for better control on mass public interaction and contact tracing. Adequate emergency facilities and/or emergency-ready facilities need to be in place. A smaller commercial centre to maintain certain independence of working and living will be better to avoid large gatherings and close proximity. Perhaps, we will see a more dispersed commercial area rather than a high density commercial centre. Public parks and green areas should be planned as a buffer between zones and clusters. And ultimately, the connectivity between these smaller clusters to town centres and beyond via the public transport system will also have to be replanned to cater for social distancing as the “new norm”.
How will it change the existing architecture and interior design of offices and residential buildings? Will they become more compartmentalised? Will centralisation and large office buildings become less prominent?
To many, the lockdown has taught us to be more inclusive in our social and working life. It has forced us to spend more time at, and do our work from home. This new norm has resulted in new needs and requirements in our personal and working spaces which will change and influence building architecture and interior design spatial planning. As for the existing city centre and buildings, some architectural and mainly interior layout adjustments need to be made.
Natural ventilation is coming back as a valuable commodity. In my opinion, there would be more balconies, terraces or elevated gardens on building facades to provide fresh air and act as break spaces. Balconies in apartment living will be more sought after, especially in our tropical climate, which can be used as sheltered outdoor spaces apart from providing openings for natural ventilation during the rain. A centralised facility floor in a condo is best to be decentralised with some public spaces located on the upper floors with better views and ventilation. Perhaps, the new design preferences will slowly transform the cocooned sleek all-glass building aesthetic to a facade skyline with punctuated open terraces and balconies.
Internally, the big, open plan is changing back to one of cubicles and compartmentalisation to maintain social distancing and to minimise airborne close-contact transmission of viruses. Therefore, allowances of area on “square footage per person” basis is going to increase, thus requiring the same staff size office to have a bigger area. While a less dense office creates a better working environment, the bigger area will result in higher rental. Here again, perhaps the new norm of “alternative working” for example taking turns to work between home and the office will help to reduce the need for all staff to be in the office and at the same time to cut rental costs.
In apartment design, given the same budget, a bigger floor area is going to be preferred over luxury finishes to avoid close contact. Besides balconies, perhaps office spaces will need to be provided in apartment layouts to house a home office. In addition, the typical floor layout with lesser number of units per floor, wider corridors and creative lobby layout is a must to maintain social distancing.
Apart from the usual project brief, working from home will necessitate the need for a home office or library in designing both apartments and landed residential buildings. Coupled with good Wi-Fi connectivity and a computer, the office space will be an important space to work, video conference, and keep files and documents. This will also prevent having to work from the living, dining or bedroom spaces, thus keeping those spaces tidy from papers and working files.
As for lift buttons, switches and equipment, whenever possible, contact-less sensors, app-based and even facial recognition over touch buttons are preferred. High-speed Wi-Fi in a building is a must to facilitate the usage of these new technologies, equipment and for the home office environment. Mechanically, the elevator design and provision will also be affected by Covid-19. Variables such as speed and capacity of the elevators need to be reworked. Instead of a maximum number of passengers per lift, the new norm will be a minimum number of pax allowed in a lift while maintaining the required efficiency and waiting time.
Research and application of nano-technology on architectural surfaces will be intensified to stop the spread of viruses via touch. Applied onto product surfaces, these technologies can potentially kill viruses on contact. By then, it is inevitable that many new architectural products such as door knobs, lift buttons, toilet ware and fittings to furniture and paint employing this technology will emerge in the market.
In short, architects, planners and designers need to go back to the drawing boards to address these new challenges in their designs. The concerns regarding post-Covid-19 will definitely, somewhat, change the architect’s approach to design. At the same time, the challenge is to also balance these new parameters with efficiency in design and cost to maintain the project’s viability.
With Covid-19 affecting our respiratory organs, will we take sick building syndrome more seriously after this?
Sick building syndrome is an area that is often overlooked in a building. Among others, inadequate ventilation, mouldy air conditioning systems or ducts, and potential chemical contamination can all cause sick building syndrome that will affect our health. Architects, engineers and builders need to revisit the air-conditioning and water distribution systems provided in buildings. A better air filtration system that can kill viruses on return air such as UV light sterilisers and use more fresh air intake is important to prevent the spread of airborne viruses.
Legionnaires disease is another type of sick building syndrome, caused by Legionella bacteria. Even though the disease does not spread from human to human, it can be fatal and commonly infects humans from the mist of water that we breathe. Hence, the water distribution system, storage and usage of water all need to be carefully attended to. Water fountains, home showers and mist spray – that most Malaysians are fond of to keep themselves cool – are all potential sources of this virus, which need to be addressed.
Do you foresee a change of preferences amongst home buyers?
Post-Covid-19, we are definitely going to see some shifts among home buyers’ preferences. Due to the challenging economic situation, I think potential home buyers are going to be extra careful with their spending and thus their choices for property. They will be looking for a real bargain and value for money before deciding. Location will remain as the main criterion. It is more important now than ever to be living close to your workplace or in a property within an integrated development or master plan with retail conveniences such as shops, grocery stores and restaurants to reduce travelling and unnecessary outside contact.
Unit layouts will also be scrutinised to include small offices as a base for working from home. Apartment facilities or public parks and gardens will probably best be “compartmentalised” or decentralised in few locations or floors rather than one big open area to observe social distancing. To most, space over luxury, and lesser instead of high-density development. To few, luxury to include a proper home office with meeting and secretary spaces.