What are the Impacts on Urban Architecture and Design?

Featuring Alex Bozikovic, Globe and Mail architecture critic; Franc D’Ambrosio, Principal at D’Ambrosio Architecture and Urbanism; Janna Levitt, Partner at LGA Architectural Partners; and Adam Lubinsky, Managing Principal at WXY Studio

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Rethinking building design

During the chat, panelists listed some of the elements of the built form that will need to be reconsidered using a new “COVID lens”:

  • The size of office spaces may need to be reduced due to the now proven effectiveness of remote working.
  • The size and format of residential units may need to be reconsidered in order to accommodate living and work.
  • Residential lobby sizes and gathering places may need to be reevaluated to accommodate for physical distancing.
  • The nature of social spaces in office complexes may need a rethink in light of social distancing requirements during outbreaks

2. A time for innovation with “tactical urbanism” – low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment

Pilot projects have always been a clever way to ease change, and right now, cities are just one big pilot project. Concepts that have not gained any traction in the past, are now being expedited to solve problems in the immediate. Some of these innovations may very well stick – and cities will be better for it.

3. Mass transit needs a big re-think

The role transit systems play in a city is, of course, critical. But the business model is going to have to undergo a thorough reevaluation – both in terms of how systems are paid for, and how they are designed. The topic of multi-centre cities was also debated, both among the panelists and in the chat feed by participants. One panelist suggested there was value in exploring the popular concept of “15 minute or 20 minute cities” in order to reduce the number of vehicle trips and to spur small, local businesses.

4. Density and the demonization of cities

This pandemic has sparked a renewed discourse on the very nature of cities and the potential to reignite the cultural meme that insists cities are places where disease transmission is rampant. But “most North American cities are not actually very dense at all,” as one panelist noted. Some Asian cities, with exponentially greater density, have managed to actually curb the outbreak. Designers and architects, in partnership with health scientists, will be charged with the task of broad intensification in a post-COVID world.

5. Public realm and the commons

COVID-19 has illustrated, very plainly, that there’s a dearth of public spaces at a community scale. Many cities across North America have given up or sold off their publicly owned lands. The urban planning and design profession must promote the reclamation of the commons – by demanding the integration of public spaces into developments and creatively working with the untapped resource of a city’s streets and roadways – which up until now, have been reserved exclusively to the domain of the private automobile.