Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Plexiglass shields and hand sanitizer dispensers are just a few items that have become commonplace in many companies since COVID-19 took hold back in March.

 

But what does the future hold for offices and workplaces once this pandemic has become a thing of the past? That’s what a team of experts in conjunction with fabrik architects inc. in Cambridge are in the process of determining through the creation of possible pandemic responsive design possibilities.  

 

“The physicality of our built-in environment will have to change, even though we might be COVID free a year or two from now, people will always have a fear that it can happen again,” says Elisia Neves, fabrick’s Principal Architect. “It’s going to be ingrained in us.”

 

In response, the firm’s in-house design team began working on creating a series of possible designs back in the spring, bringing together an outside advisory board consisting of professionals including architects, pandemic disease specialists and materials science engineers. Together, the group has been feverishly looking at design matrices linked to pandemic responsive design for the commercial, office, residential and multi-residential sectors.

 

“Our building types are going to change,” says Elisia, adding that installing plexiglass shields and reconfiguring workstations to create more physical distance are just ‘Band-Aid’ solutions.

 

She says the changes in design will be systemic and centre on a rethinking of the long-lasting cycles of demolition and construction.

 

“We’re looking at all aspects of architecture; from the physical ways in which we plan and lay out our spaces, to looking at the systems integrated into our buildings,” says Elisia, referring to the mechanical systems. “How do we get cleaner air into our buildings? What does that look like? How do we retrofit? We’re going to have a lot of retrofit projects in the future.”

 

And when it comes to new builds, she says the design matrices will also consider potential materials and what will provide the least possibility for contamination and can be easily maintained.

 

Besides materials, the layout of office spaces is also being considered which could mean fewer traditional work ‘cubicles’ since many people may be working from home and the creation of more communal places for employees to connect, such as conference spaces and communication areas.

 

“The thing that will never change is the need for a variety of different spaces,” says Elisia, referring to places where employees can gather to access office equipment, such as photocopiers and other supplies.

 

“We want the design to be thought-through, so we don’t have those things in place,” she says, referring to plexiglass shields and barriers.

 

Also, automation, touchless and digital technologies are other considerations that Elisia says are being addressed to make buildings ‘smarter’, even having the capability to identify you before allowing you entry.

 

“I think we (Architects) are going to make them (buildings) more intelligent so you’re not going to even need a key or a fob,” she says, noting all these changes will take time and study. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a very gradual thing.”

 

Elisia says the fabrik team has a couple of office space projects on the horizon that could provide them with good models to test their new matrices.

 

“The idea is to have two matrices vetted by the advisory board by the end of the year,” she says, adding work on one of these significant new builds could be starting in January 2021. “That would be a really good pilot project to test the research we have been doing.”

 

Elisia says developing these matrices fits perfectly into the many ‘strands’ that encompass what fabrik strives for as an innovative architectural firm.

 

“I think this is a very strong strand that’s not going to go away very quickly in the minds of people,” she says. “We want to do it right.”

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