Designing safer and healthier office spaces

The pandemic has caused a shift in our ideas about community. We have embraced the reality that community does not pertain only to physical connections, but also to virtual communities, which have as much relevance, all the more now that risks are associated with being in close physical proximity with other people. That’s not to say, however, that physical connections will be completely abandoned.

In relation to the architecture and design of spaces, we can expect changes that reflect this shift. Office spaces will change to accommodate the strict implementation of safety measures. Ventilation, sanitation, and distancing will be among the primary considerations in building and designing a safe workspace. Workplaces may also be redesigned to include more spaces where smaller groups of people may interact. There may be leisure spaces to help with productivity and mental wellness, and hubs for one-person activities like meditation, writing, or reading. Just as the home environment is now hybridized to accommodate work, the work environment can also be hybridized to accommodate wellbeing.

Even while the office space as we know it is undergoing a reinvention, I can see that remote working will continue to be an element in the work models of the future for many employers and workers alike. I believe there will be a middle ground between in-office reporting and the “WFH” arrangement, which is now more popularly known as the hybrid working setup. As an architect, this represents a rare moment for me and for my company, Italpinas Development Corporation (IDC), when the universally accepted design brief is itself in a state of flux. This gives us the opportunity to apply creativity and agility in responding to the new normal as designers and architects.

Historically, there have been moments like this one when the world changed and architecture was tasked to adapt. For example, the invention of the elevator turned the spatial hierarchy of buildings upside-down by eliminating the burden of climbing. Where a street-level space was once considered premium, the penthouse suddenly became the most valuable. More recently, the computerization of tasks also changed the way that spaces are laid out. Large analog objects are now obsolete. These included typewriters, dial-up phones, hard copy libraries, and retinues of filing cabinets to contain universes of paper. The result is that a typical office today can be more compact, and can also devote more space to safety and wellbeing.

At IDC, our designs have always placed wellbeing at the forefront. Ventilation, though taking on a more urgent tone in a pandemic year, has always been a basic consideration for wellbeing in homes and offices. The same can be said for gentle natural illumination, shading, and lightness to the eye. Simple though they are, these design elements are rooted in nature and the natural condition where we can be most relaxed and also most productive.

As the modern workplace undergoes a reinvention to accommodate new health protocols as well as new hybridization of working styles, we are faced with novel challenges. But design offers a multitude of solutions to those who apply creativity and adhere to the timelessness of nature.

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