How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Change the Built Environment

April 14, 2020 | By: Alyssa Giacobbe (

ICRAVE’s design for The David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center features interactive waiting “nooks” scattered around the bulding and hand washing stations on every floor. Photo: Chris Cooper


This won’t be the first time in history that cities and buildings will be reimagined in response to an increased understanding of disease

It’s hard not to pay more attention to our physical realm these days given the fact so many of us are sheltering in place, or are likely to be doing so soon. Anecdotally, at least, DIY home improvement projects are on the rise; if you’re like me, your closet has never been better organized. For many in the design community, however, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused them to reevaluate their life’s work, and what it might mean to design for a world that will never be quite the same, especially when it comes to how we gather in and use large public spaces, like airports, hotels, hospitals, gyms, and offices.

As Rami el Samahy, a principal at Boston architecture and design firm OverUnder and adjunct professor at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, points out, this won’t be the first time in history that cities and buildings will be reimagined or redesigned in response to an increased understanding of disease: Consider Haussmann’s renovation of 1800s Paris, London’s reconfigured infrastructure in the wake of the city’s 1954 cholera epidemic, and 19th-century New York’s reaction to the squalid conditions of tenement housing. But while the particular lessons of COVID-19 are still very much TBD, a few ideas have already emerged. For one thing, as architect David Dewane of Chicago firm Barker/Nestor points out, “architects are often inspired to come up with fresh ideas during those moments when we’ve got nothing else to do.”

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