Health and Wellness in a COVID-Influenced World

 Architecture and design that offers health and wellness in the home.

By Alicia Perez

COVID-19 has affected the design and construction industry in ways small and large, but one of the positive adjustments has been greater emphasis on health and wellness. The Healthy Building movement has traditionally looked at the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

With the onset of COVID, an emphasis on the human element of this initiative has meant that designers are now proactively applying strategies to enhance the total well-being of tenants and occupants. Beyond complex technical approaches, Withee Malcolm, A BSB Design Studio, is revisiting architecture and interior adjustments at the unit and community-levels to deliver projects that offer greater flexibility and well-being.

One of the most anxiety-inducing issues for those living in multifamily developments is access. Elevators and stairs pose their own potential issues, but anyone who has ever walked a 500’ closed corridor can imagine the dread of hurrying to your door in hopes of finding fresh air. At the site massing and community planning level, we have found that wayfinding and indoor circulation offer straightforward opportunities to break up large, dense developments with natural light and ventilation.

Single loaded corridors, when open to the outdoors, offer the best and easiest access to fresh air and natural light. They also add community perks through enhanced security and connections through views to other floors and wider site lines beyond a development. Double loaded corridors, while beneficial for greater density potential and efficiency, can also be designed in ways to manage COVID concerns.

Light wells with openings every 50-75’, operable windows placed strategically to break up long stretches, higher ceiling heights, or even transitions to single corridors are strategies that have been employed to increase access to natural air and light.

Within multifamily communities, amenity or community spaces have become highly prized as personal escapes and neighborly connections. In order to flexibly function for both individuals and groups these spaces require thoughtful planning to ensure a personal sense of control. Considering transformation, adaptability and flexibility ensures functionality within work-from-home or distance learning living scenarios.
In outdoor spaces, the firm has been increasingly integrating movable furniture and fixed components in vignettes that readily adapt between communal and personal reflection areas. Within community rooms, offering breakout conference spaces or call-booths that can be rented for a few hours or up to a full day offers tremendous flexibility.

In mail or parcel rooms, which have taken on added importance due to online retail, the firm’s designers have begun to consider not just added space requirements, but the types of parcels. Oversized orders might require lockers while perishable groceries might require refrigerated space until tenants can pick up their orders. Even in fitness centers, design considerations have moved beyond oversized or double height spaces to include operable windows and doors for fresh air flow and integrated sanitizing stations for cleanliness.

Technology also plays a role in early planning and design, with the integration of touchless entries and plumbing fixtures, facial recognition, motion sensors and even virtual assistance and mobile apps finding their way into housing and commercial designs.

At the unit level, Withee Malcolm designers are now routinely implementing strategies for increased flexibility within large, open living spaces. Inclusion of a slightly enlarged entry vestibule or a simple coat closet now doubles as sanitizing stations or containment zones.

“As society becomes hyper aware of the shortcomings of our surroundings, designers play a unique role in correcting deficiencies and helping to safeguard communities against future pandemic dangers.”

Nooks or irregular corners in bedrooms are now prime desk spaces or work areas, and bump-outs in dining and kitchen areas can, with minor design adjustments, be full-blown home offices. As the need for flexibility increases, floor-mounted or ceiling-hung separators, barn doors, folding partitions and even pocket doors are being considered as easy, cost-effective adaptation devices to help living and working spaces feel separate. Key to these approaches is offering division without losing square footage to large door swings.

These options also benefit tenants’ bottom lines, as a one-bedroom unit may satisfy work-from-home requirements without a two-bedroom rental. Even in kitchens where the standard used to be large, oversized islands, Withee Malcolm staff has been including long tables or mobile cabinet units to alleviate a lack of space but offer increased flexibility.

As society becomes hyper aware of the shortcomings of our surroundings, designers play a unique role in correcting deficiencies and helping to safeguard communities against future pandemic dangers. By focusing our design efforts more intently on air quality, fitness and emotional wellbeing we can effectively – at minimal cost – apply more holistic design moves on both the macro- and micro-level allowing tenants and visitors a sense of control over their environments.

Alicia Perez is the Senior Project Manager at Withee Malcolm.

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