Singapore is a fast-growing country. In March 2020, the Singaporean government stated that by 2030, 80% of all the buildings (both existing and new developments) in Singapore will become more environmentally-friendly. However, the pandemic is proving to slow down many of Singapore’s developments. The coronavirus pandemic is pooling valuable and sustainable resources. It can be inferred that building and design may be heavily influenced by Covid-19 measures and change to accommodate for it as well its eco-friendliness. Rather than focussing on buildings that won’t exist for several years, applying new-found design information to existing buildings is much more efficient.
Since quarantine disables us from seeing wide spaces and new things every day, it can make one feel negatively towards their environment. To resolve this feeling, designers are going against recommending multifunction spaces in households and saying that it is better to have separated spaces with dividers or partitions to also limit the number of people in one space.
It’s important to keep one’s mental state of mind on track, so having a space to oneself (a space that is customised to one’s likes and dislikes) is recommended. These separated spaces also account for acoustics, which is significantly important since zoom calls are being attended by all occupants of a household (producing sound). Triple-glazed windows are worth investing in to prevent sound from traveling across space.
Office spaces are also recommended to keep partitions between offices and desks at a certain distance from each other. Disposable (and maybe eco-friendly/recyclable) chair coverings and desk pads can be implemented. Some bacteria are transferred as a result of touching surfaces, which can be fixed by creating “contactless pathways”. With contactless pathways, tenants/occupants will not have to touch any surfaces, except their possessions, while going about their daily activities.
For example, elevators can be called with a phone, voice command or facial recognition to enter office premises and motion sensors to open doors. Designers at Cushman and Wakefield firm have developed ‘six feet office design’, a concept in which there are 30% fewer desks in the office space, six feet distance between desks, enclosed meeting rooms with a capacity of two people instead of six, and perhaps, an alert system for each employee to notify them when they are at less than six feet of another person.
One view is that there shouldn’t be any large windows since it might be difficult for people to see and communicate with one another (especially for differently-abled people). But a general view from many designers is that any space post-Covid — indoor or outdoor, open or divided, commercial or residential — should be well-ventilated and filtered to reduce the spread of bacteria. To avoid the build-up of bacteria, non-porous surfaces work best since they do not absorb them.
Granite, other natural stones, wallpaper, rugs and certain textiles are porous since they absorb microbial spores and food particles. Steel, Quartz, Corian and other copper alloy surfaces are the best surfaces since they are easier to sanitise. Architects and designers are aiming to have at least 30% outdoor space in the overall area of a residence.
With more access to outdoor space, there would be more access to natural light which can reduce reliance on artificial lighting and electricity (an eco-friendly option). For urban planning, sidewalks should be wider for people to uphold social distancing regulation. There should also be more available outdoor spaces for holding events to reduce the density of people in enclosed spaces and therefore reduce the spread.
In a discussion with Dr Nirmal Tulsidas Kishnani, Associate Professor and Program Director of Master of Science and Integrated Sustainable Design at the National University of Singapore, I was able to get a perspective on what building design will look like in Singapore’s future. The discussions on design were around theories and possibilities, with no definite answers. He believes that Covid-19 has made conversations about climate change more urgent since human’s relationship to Nature is negative, which indirectly results in the spread of more diseases.
With this virus, density has become an issue. If people are spread out, it will not be cost-effective or sustainable for a city, and there needs to be a way to alleviate the crowd. One of the newer topics of discussion is in regards to whether or not specific spaces are required anymore. Working from home is proving to be more convenient than expected. Office spaces may not be eliminated, but they might become less used/smaller or converted into apartment buildings or hotels for a hybrid system (working at home and in-office). Retail systems/space might change, since the convenience of ordering in is being used far more than going out to shops and restaurants.
The pandemic is proving to be a significant challenge interfering with our quality of daily life. Considering the number of regulations and changes that public spaces have had to make, there is a likelihood that building design in Singapore (both commercial and residential) might change to better suit the contagious nature of Covid-19. The mission of being environmentally-friendly will not be hindered by the pandemic’s design circumstances.