(The author is the immediate past national president of the United Architects of the Philippines and the first national president from Mindanao. He has been in the private practice for more than 35 years and is a Fellow of the UAP. He is also the first ASEAN and APEC architect coming from Davao City. He is a graduate of BS Architecture from the University of Mindanao, a Doctor Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects Singapore, and a recipient of the European Business Assembly.)
When COVID-19 struck the world, offices worldwide were in a turmoil on what to do. Some architectural offices were quick to migrate their employees to a work-from-home status since even before the pandemic, they had already been using digital platforms such as Autocad, Sketch Up, Revit, Lumion and 3D Printing.
Today around the world, COVID-19 has greatly affected the way people live. Gone are the usual fellowships of people gathering for work, celebrations; of bonding together, enjoying each other’s company, and being together for long periods of hours at their workstations or even during happy hours after work.
The lifestyles of people and even the physical structures in a society have changed the landscape of cìties that we begin to ask ourselves: ‘Do we firmly believe architects should be at the forefront of innovations? Are architects important to make these places livable? What is the role of architects today?’
What are the challenges facing global architecture? How do we reshape architecture as our global response to the pandemic? How do we build a better urban future?
First on the list of reshaping architecture for architects is digital technology. We now embrace a world where we are interconnected but separated.
Our designs of resilient cities are now mostly toward embracing virtual commerce. Cities worldwide, through their local and national governments, have now interconnected government transactions and accelerated data gatherings to effectively interface transactions and eradicate graft and corruption.
Some physically affected structures of architectural work are office spaces and hospital buildings. Also affected through digital technology are businesses engaged in online shopping, now a popular mode of commerce. Here, the shift of design and construction of homes, offices or business establishments by architects remains high for this type of market.
Information technology is now very much an upgraded part of the architect’s design process.
Second on the list on how to improve our cities is the health-care system. There has been an unprecedented massive review and investment worldwide in public health systems. The focus of the various national governments is to go to communities and suburban centers and have their local governments work out preventive measures and provide permanent isolation centers.
Architects worldwide have stepped up their innovative designs for health-care provisions of isolation and treatment centers, making sure the design process minimizes the spread of the virus.
Online medical health consultations are also becoming effective tools to help contain COVID-19 while giving out medical aid.
The suburban areas, communities, districts, and barangays are now the first line of defense as local authorities execute programs to eradicate the virus block by block, working out each barangay or district. They now implement localized lockdowns.
The third item challenging architecture is mobility. Each city is now weighing the balance between public health and the economy. As governments grapple with the downturn of businesses, they are now in a quandary on whether or not to allow work to resume despite the pandemic to keep their countries alive. The challenges here are for architects and urban planners to design workplaces, transport systems and pedestrian walkways to minimize the spread of the virus.
Functional spaces and circulatory flows of people’s movement should be re-visited and re-evaluated to incorporate innovative design approaches.
Open spaces in urban dwellings are now a necessity.
Even airport protocols are now virtual. We have now virtual flight reservations, screens are now touchless, and we see robotic machines going around airport terminals spraying disinfectants. We also have facial recognition and biometrics for passengers doing self check-ins. COVID-19 has altered the design of airports with lesser personnel involved.
Fourth item challenging architecture today is business and commerce. There are changes to business models from traditional to non-traditional. Business tradings and workflows have either shut down, been affected tremendously, or have drastically shifted to another form of business. Conversion is the key here to the designers’ approach to lessen the losses and still make the business profitable. Adaptive re-use and collaborative works become the norm for architects as businesses figure out how to stay afloat. Architects must embody the latest building technology and creative solutions to sustain the future of businesses.
Concerns of businesses and architects are the supply chain, which has been disrupted globally. Factories have closed while society’s need for food and personal protective equipment have been in demand but with less supply. This is due to the businesses not fully embracing digital technology updates.
And lastly, education affects the global practice of architecture in terms of the regulatory regimes and physical aspects. We see today’s education being driven by telecom and that telecom should be available. Data internet now becomes a basic utility investment by local governments and more cities, schools and households. They will have to invest in this because there are millions of students out there that need to be educated.
The way to go for the tertiary level is for college students to do their research and even their practicum away from the laboratory walls in schools but through their mentors in the professional and business fields. In short, distance learning is an approach to education today. The secondary and primary levels will have to either work from home or the institutions of learning should upgrade themselves to physically reformat their places of educating pupils.
This is where the architects can think of innovating these buildings, renovating the classrooms and creating places where the students can also have remote meetings with their teachers separately. Regulatory agencies are now changing the mode of educating students via the internet worldwide and the education ministries are considering alternative learning techniques and approaches applicable to all levels of primary and secondary schools.
Designers now are innovating approaches to internships. Limited and obligated exposures to the craft are now being considered by regulatory bodies. But schools around the globe, such as those in Greece, Russia, and in Wuhan, China now have students trooping back to the classrooms but, of course with safety protocols in place.