When the year 2020 hit us all by surprise, we made significant changes to our lifestyle and how we connect with others. Many of us found ourselves confined to our homes for several months, integrating work and family life – a concept that most of us tried very hard to keep separated for the benefit of our quality of life.
2020 also made us understand how our homes were not designed to be flexible and adapt to our ever-evolving needs. Not much has changed in residential design standards in the past 20 years, besides condos getting ridiculously smaller and decreasing construction quality. The home itself remains the same, more or less. We can trace down the most significant residential design shifts and associate them with periods of great turmoil and change, such as the industrial revolution, or significant health and social crisis, such as pandemics.
Pandemics and some diseases have had a determinant impact on modern architecture, such as tuberculosis. Some of the most characteristic features of the modern movement, such as large window openings and emphasis on solar exposure, were adopted because of the proven benefits to human health and became quality standards that we look for in our homes today.
We can expect COVID-19 to leave its mark on the way we think of our homes moving forward. Below are some ideas that might impact the way we think about homes in the future:
Flexibility will be one of the essential features of living spaces in the future. Our homes have suddenly become a combination of office, entertainment, and living spaces. Working from home leveraging digital tools has been widely accepted as a productive solution and is here to stay after offices reopen. We need to treat the Home as a multi-purpose, adaptable, and living entity, in contrast with the single purpose spaces we have grown accustomed to.
Having the ability to adapt the layout to one’s immediate needs will be a big plus and a selling feature for future developments.
With more multi-purpose and flexible spaces, you can expect extra clutter to accumulate. Designers need to consider integrated smart storage when designing modern living spaces. Although modern families tend to live with less, when you bring your work into your home, you add a few extra gadgets and equipment that need to be put away at the end of the day to focus on your family and disconnect from work. Ideally, you would do that in a way that would be practical to set up the next morning and resume your work with minimal disruption. The same applies to living spaces that can quickly transform into a temporary bedroom in the evening, continuing as a central gathering space in the morning. Away from sight, away from mind. Smart storage and organization will have a tremendous impact on our happiness and mental health.
Also, to consider, in large cities, where small apartments seem to be the norm, people tend to be very mindful of storage limitations when buying groceries or supplies. In a pandemic where people are encouraged to stay home, having storage options is essential to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store.
With the increase in online shopping, we also have seen a rise in pilled brown boxes at our doorsteps. Multi-residential buildings have seen an overwhelming amount of boxes flooding concierge desks and condo storage rooms. It is not hard to imagine that online delivery rooms will become standards in residential buildings. The question is, will single-family homes have a solution for this new reality?
The challenge for designers will be to develop innovative solutions to respond to this immediate need. It might be as simple as reinterpreting the delivery chutes that were a staple in a not so distant past into something functional and adaptable for modern-day living.
One of the most challenging aspects of confinement was dealing with isolation. Interaction with our natural surroundings and other people is a fundamental part of who we are as humans and should not be underestimated. Science has proven that living in isolation for extended periods will have a tool on your mental and physical health.
Developers and designers need to work together to create healthy homes that provide access to the exterior and opportunities for connection with other people without having direct physical contact. Access to exterior spaces is relatively easy to provide in residential at grade. However, it has always been more challenging in multi-family residential buildings, where we still see units without direct access to a balcony. It will not be a surprise if we see building codes address this need in the future.
Large glass surfaces can also incorporate larger operable windows to provide air circulation and a better connection between interior and exterior spaces. This simple solution will affect the occupants’ overall wellness and positively impact their energy bills through smart and effective passive interior cooling and air exchange strategies.
As people become more aware of the things they touch, houses will lead to more widespread adoption of smart-home technologies. This new reality is an incredible opportunity to blend technology with construction and take advantage of the new digital tools available. Traditionally, Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) tend to be late adopters of new technology compared to other industries. We should focus energies on delivering solutions that celebrate technology instead of negating it.
Some possible solutions could be integrated lighting systems that turn on automatically, door locks that recognize users, indoor ventilation systems with improved filters that increase indoor air quality, potentially eliminating certain air bacteria and viruses. Some of these technologies exist today but are mostly seen as costly add-ons instead of standards.
The future is bright
I am optimistic that we will know how to adapt and how to respond to people’s needs. History has shown that we always come out stronger from any global crisis, and we will know how to extract positives from the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on our lives.
We look forward to working with our clients, partners, and colleagues to help build a better world for us and our future generations.