7.3 Building Design: Effects of COVID-19 on Design

Author: Diane Rodrigues

ABSTRACT: A high percentage of the world’s population has spent most of 2020, and now 2021, confined to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. With our living spaces now becoming hubs for work, exercise, education, and leisure, it is important to support the evolution of clean, safe, and sustainable design.

Figure 1: Viability of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 in Aerosols and on Various Surfaces. (Image Credit: The New England Journal of Medicine)


What constitutes as clean has undergone radical change and a desire to ensure a safe environment has driven hygienic, stress-relieving, calming and purpose-driven solutions. Many designs are integrating touchless options, thoughtful spacial planning and antimicrobial characteristics within materials and new product innovations. Health and wellness have become foundational at home and high levels of hygiene are likely to remain within private and public spaces as we begin to comprehend that this may not be the last global pandemic in modern times. This may result in being a catalyst for decentralization, which would require smaller units such as hospitals and schools across more urban areas to strengthen local centres. If there is no longer a need for people to be physically at work, the demand for living closer to the city decreases.


As our activity becomes increasingly confined to the spaces in which we live, the goal is to make homes easier to clean and disinfect, while not neglecting the effects of materials on our current climate crisis. Based on the study by the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University, the coronavirus stays active on: smooth surfaces (ex. plastics) for up to 72 hours, stainless steel for up to 48 hours, paper/cardboard for up to 24 hours and copper for only 4 hours (refer to Figure 1). In 2015, researchers working on a Department of Defense grant compared infection rates at three hospitals and found that when copper alloys were used in three hospitals, it reduced infection rates by 58%. Copper, along with copper alloys like brass, contains antimicrobial properties, therefore when viruses land on copper, it degrades them within minutes. Hardware could be an ideal application for this.


Floors should be easily washable with minimal space for bugs to hide, such as they do in carpeted floors. Although easy to clean, vinyl flooring is usually avoided by designers who care about sustainability, as polyvinyl chloride production releases many thousands of tons of toxic chemicals into the environment each year. Interface, the greenest of flooring companies, is becoming an option for their luxury vinyl tile as they are progressing with their Mission Zero that is attempting to reach a zero net impact on the environment. They are also aiming for a Climate Take Back, where they go carbon negative in the future. Linoleum is completely natural and unlike vinyl, it has antibacterial properties. Cork is also completely natural and an antibacterial floor material option which can keep out unwanted heat energy in the summer and keep it in the room during the winter. Concrete is easy to keep clean and so are ceramic tiles, although they do contain grout between them which is easily susceptible to moisture and stains. Due to it being a porous material, it allows for dirt to adhere to it fairly easily. Similarly to concrete, Terrazzo is easy to clean, with the ability to even run up the walls in a curved base to make the floor easier to mop clean. Also, it is non-porous/antimicrobial and great for hospital use to reduce the risk of infections. Although beautiful, wood flooring is more difficult to wash as water gets between the boards, and engineered wood can quickly deteriorate. Therefore, it is not the best option when dealing with the coronavirus. Try avoiding marble as well, as it is very porous and can harbour bacteria, with needs of sealing and disinfecting.


As studies have shown, the coronavirus does not last as long on rougher surfaces, making wood more successful on walls where there is no cleaning needed to be done due to foot traffic. Paper-faced drywall feeds mold and disintegrates at the sight of water. Fiberglass facing drywall is more durable and mold and moisture resistant, more capable of being washed to disinfect. Both clay-based plaster walls and large tile ceramics are smooth surfaces, that although corona virus lasts long on, is easy to clean.

Spacial Layouts

Providing an in-between zone, such as a mud room with an attached bathroom (and potential laundry), is great to undress and clean up to prevent the spread of potential germs entering your living area. Ways to subdivide space and provide private spaces should be considered to reduce the inconvenience of fully open-plan living during the shift to home-centric activities. This may not necessarily mean more space, but just better designed spaces. People may want to integrate media rooms with a good setup, as less people will be going to the theatre. Larger pantries become necessary as food is being bought at larger quantities to lessen the amount of grocery trips. As family members begin performing a variety of activities at home during the pandemic, there must also be boundaries set in place for open concept kitchens to avoid it being an unhygienic multitasking room. Providing alternatives to working on the kitchen counter is important. A properly engineered and installed kitchen exhaust hood is critical for indoor air quality and outside air and good ventilation is essential in dealing with COVID-19. In regard to public buildings, the head of analytics and insights at Zaha Hadid Architects predicts the presence of wider corridors and doorways, more partitions between departments, and many more staircases.


Many innovations that cater to our pandemic needs are emerging with developments in material science that are centred in functionality with minimal climate and spacial footprints. One being a shelved sanitation station conveniently located at the entrance of the home, that disinfects hands and devices. This post-COVID home solution by Umeå Institute of Design and Electrolux, prevents any potential germs from entering the house by using UV-C light for the devices and hand sanitizer dispenser on the bottom for your hands. The smart mirror also provides temperature and weather updates. A design solution to be used in even small living spaces is the Sauberair FLAT, an invisible air purifier measuring just 3.5 inches in thickness that is disguised as a piece of art. The intakes and exhausts are built around the sides, with the capability of cleaning 19 square metres of space within 12 minutes. Another way of bringing disinfecting capabilities to living and working spaces is with a ceiling panel system with ultraviolet air purification, created by Armstrong World Industries and Medical Illumination Inc. A mix of cleaning and technological improvements are essential for both public and private cleanliness, which is why improving the performance of filtration systems is important. Researchers at NTU in Singapore have developed a bladeless ceiling fan that can cool a small room at twice the speed than a conventional fan while using about half the energy. It can decrease the spread of disease in confined spaces with an ultraviolet light source that helps kill microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. As we begin to go back to work, there are many problems to still tackle in the public design realm, such as bacteria covered lift panels. Techmax Solution has developed an affordable touchless lift panel that can be easily integrated into any commercial lift. Pointing to the corresponding button can allow users to avoid coming into contact with potential viruses. We are living in a world where many things can be made to be contactless, which contributes to more hygienic surroundings.


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Doremalen, Dr. van, et al. “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1.” The New England Journal of Medicine, 16 Apr. 2020, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmc2004973.


Diane Rodrigues is completing her fourth year at Ryerson University’s Interior Design program. As she pursues architectural design after graduation, she intends on integrating sustainable design solutions within project executions. She hopes to keep clients aware of unsustainable building practices and encourage more environmentally conscious design decisions.

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