MARCH 2021

Designing the “new normal”: a post pandemic response

Pritika Raja is an interior designer with a background in architecture. She completed her B.A (Hons) from Heriot-Watt University and worked as a residential interior architect in Dubai. She then moved to Singapore, where she worked as a multidisciplinary designer – with architecture, interiors and product design. Pritika’s practice embodies the eclectic influences gained from her diverse experiences and exposure to international clients. In her spare time, she works on illustrations, paintings and other art related projects.

As we commence 2021, it seems apparent that COVID-19 is not a passing storm and will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. There is no question that COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on millions of people across the globe. This year has reminded us of our mortality and vulnerability as human beings. Moreover, people all over the world experienced their freedom being curtailed during the global lockdowns. That experience has left us yearning to bring more meaning into our lives despite the restrictions this year. Needless to say, it
persuaded people to change their ways of living and opt for a lifestyle that is more independent and selfserving in order to adapt to the restrictive nature of the pandemic. Having said that, it seems that we have landed ourselves in an ironic situation where we have evolved into a more self-sufficient yet interdependent society, adapted to remodel our future. This has
been observed in the past year when we look at the collective strategies put in place for containment plans, new space layouts, reformed healthcare, vaccines, controlled human interactions, optimized resource utility, and even questionable societal and political norms. Our preconceived notions of life do not apply any longer as we approach a “new normal”
with reservations and questions of the unknown. The language of this “new normal” is casually used to settle uncertainties brought by this global pandemic. However, as our society and economy revives, we have been constantly perpetuated with this rhetoric as we imagine settling into this life, appropriating our present as the standard and welcoming a new world order.
Keeping these conditions in mind, we understand that there is a shift in priorities as the world wonders about the post-pandemic way of life. This situation has prompted us, as architects, to think about the role of design in facilitating functional and safe solutions that would allow humans to continue living and thriving without limitations if viruses such as COVID-19 become endemic.

During the periods of lockdown and solitude, a number of people have shared their experiences of introspection and mindful living. It has been interesting to see the new practices people have been putting in place during this period of time, be it safety or adjusting to this new lifestyle. These habits include but aren’t limited to new hygiene practices, modes of resource collection and utilization, restricted interactions, etc. Moving forward, this raft of new expectations and customer behaviours will prompt different approaches and strategies for designers. For example, travelers wish to maximize their experiences while minimizing risk. According to Travel News Daily, travelers are likely to either stay in hotels for short
periods or opt for longer temporary stays as they work remotely. Hospitality sectors need a thorough re-evaluation of layouts, circulation, emergency design interventions, facilities for protocol, daily operations and incorporation of biophilia, with built environment certifications. For all built environment sectors, designing spaces that would allow scenarios
with controlled and distanced interactions with safe, open and functional gathering areas is the motto for the foreseeable future. As designers, we will need to approach this with extensive research to accommodate for potential pandemic scenarios.

Due to our innate need for social interaction, survival during lockdowns can also grow weary with isolation. It is important that living spaces are designed to achieve a good balance of habitual prompts for a healthy mind and body. As designers, we must assess ways in which we can provide options for mobility and activity within the confinements of one’s home. That
being said, there are additional needs to account for factors that may have not been prioritized pre-Covid 19. Facilities such as recreational/exercise spaces and outdoor green spaces were probably disregarded in the past. However, designers will have to start catering to the rise in demand for natural open spaces. Access to nature and physical activity has become essential and people have grown to appreciate spending time outdoors during this pandemic. Creating open layouts and pockets of private open spaces within homes would help achieve that – for a change of environment, coping space or just a hover under the sun. This can be achieved by utilizing existing spaces such as walkways, garages, atriums, back-of-house spaces and unused
rooftops, converting them into gardens/terraces. One precedent we could study for this particular feature is Maggie’s Centre in London by RHSP (See Figure 1 and Figure 2), which is a two-Storey pavilion, wrapped with a deep orange protective wall, separating itself from its urban surroundings. The centre’s most highlighted feature is its bold roof canopy that appears to hover over the establishment like a protective sail yet invites ample sunlight to illuminate the interior space. The interior of the centre is spacious and flexible to create several spatial configurations and houses a series of intimate gardens, courtyards and rooftops.


Figure 1 and 2 Maggie’s Center by RHSP
Source: Retrieved 2020, from

Furthermore, the incorporation of biophilic spaces could also potentially allow for urban home farming which can serve as another recreational activity and reduce our dependence on store bought vegetables and fruits, thereby, minimizing visits to public spaces such as groceries. Since not all products can be home grown, future clients would also require extensive
storage facilities in their homes. A good idea would be to consider smart storage and built-in storage facilities so that conventional store rooms can be converted into wellness or exercise nooks instead, to accommodate for spatial deficit scenarios. Referring back to the social aspect of human beings, as we explore ideas to enable open layouts, it seems apt to explore the reconfiguration of balconies as well. At the moment, most balconies are enclosed for personal use while still providing outdoor exposure. However, this minimizes social interaction. We could consider building future developments that resemble the modern day “dorm” concept with a combination of cantilevered, traditional and recessed balconies with operable screening features and/or traditional rail height enclosures to create more visual connections and serve as another type of interaction space. A few examples are shown in the below images (Figure 3, Figure 4, Figure 5, Figure 6).

Earlier this year, the world adapted to different spatial arrangements to accommodate our daily practices such as work, school, etc. within the confinements of our home. Designer Christiane Lemieux stated that “design is going to be much more personal and, in some ways, technical, as people use their homes for work, school, and beyond,”

Figure 3. Duivenbode, O. V. (2018). Three Generation House [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020.

Figure 4. Capelleveen, E. V. (2018). Social balconies [Digital image].Retrieved 2020, from

Figure 5. Vasiliu, T. (2013). Outside [Ellebo Housing Renovation]. Retrieved 2020, from

Figure 6. Al-Ali, A.,et al. (2016). Seef Lusail Vertical Freej [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from

She also suggests that“designers are going to have to be very conscious and thoughtful about how to make people’s lives better in the spaces they have.” From this perspective, kitchens will regain importance as we expect to depend less on store-bought or take-out food, making it the most centralized space of activity; for both enjoyment and/ or necessity. Workstations need to be clearly defined as the vast majority have faced the inconvenience brought when work and personal boundaries overlap. Considering these factors, this may prompt designers to revert back to traditional design spaces rather than the modern open floor layouts. Traditional floor plans allow for confined and secluded spaces. However, it is important to still explore designing flexible dwellings so as to not restrict the user and allow reconfiguration of new layouts. Spatial interventions such as modular plans with open ended frameworks coupled with functional accessories such sliding and rotary wall panels, collapsible partitions, acoustic panels and multifunctional transforming furniture are some ways of achieving this. We could take  inspiration from precedents like the Treehouse Co-living Apartment designed by Bo-DAA (See Figure 7), in Seoul, South Korea. Even with the challenge of confined space and the nature of the communal environment, this apartment allowed flexibility in spatial configurations, incorporated green spaces and maintained privacy.

Last but not least, safety and hygiene have become top priority in households. Air purifying systems, touchless faucets and assistive technology such as automation and voice activation systems will be key for long-term resilience. Designers will bring focus to effectively incorporate safe and hygienic functionalities for users. To avoid future contagions, decontamination
stations with health screening monitors, sinks, disinfectants, mask and glove disposal, etc. will soon be installed at entrances to create a transition space between indoors and outdoors. This could also allow for a much safer and contactless transaction for door to door deliveries. To further minimize face-to-face interactions, we would like to prepare a future where we may see the integration of VR and AR systems for daily use as the world grows more dependent on online connectivity. We would be expected to design spaces for VR and AR meetings eventually. Another important feature would be designing well equipped quarantine guest rooms, with a living and resting space, functional kitchen, storage and bathing facilities for the safety, privacy and comfort of arriving visitors. For in-home safety, we would see an increasing demand in antimicrobial and antibacterial finishes and materials for easy cleaning and hygienic maintenance.

Figure 7. Boda Architects. (2018). Treehouse [Digital image].Retrieved 2020, from

Over the next few years, the architectural and interior design field will be expected to play an important role in responding and overcoming infection risks. For example, in 1933, Finnish architect Alvar Aalto designed a facility for the treatment of tuberculosis in southwest Finland; the Paimio Sanatorium. In his reflections, he says “The room design is determined by the depleted strength of the patient, reclining in his bed.” Aalto further explains, “The color of the ceiling is chosen for quietness, the light sources are outside of the patient’s field of vision, the heating is oriented toward the patient’s feet.” As designers, we work from the microlevel, ensuring concept integrity, research and careful consideration of the current trends and needs of the population, thereby, contributing to the overall big picture. Architecture and design is part of the cure. The architectural conscious includes responding to public reflections and voices and using them as precedents in future design strategies. Having said that, we must collectively ensure that our contributions incorporate resilience enhancing factors for a safe future and the collective welfare of future generations to come. There is no “one size fits all” solution but a clever mix of design solutions incorporating strategies and technologies that are adapting to user behavior. As we continue our search for “this clever mix”, we hope to recreate a future that brings back the daily urban clamour, coupled with exciting innovative solutions, welcoming the new norm with relief and reassurance.

Abdel, H. (2020, January 29). Treehouse Coliving Apartments / Bo-DAA. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from treehouse-apartment-building-bo-daa
Al-Ali, A.,et al. (2016). Seef Lusail Vertical Freej [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from
Alati, D. (2020, May 22). These Are the 7 Requests Clients Will Make Post COVID-19. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.architecturaldigest. com/story/these-are-the-7-features-clients-will-berequesting-post-covid-19
Boda Architects. (2018). Treehouse [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from com/en/residential
Briseno, A., Verabian, G., Walbuck, B., & Campbell, K. (2020, May 13). How Design Will Shift to Accommodate Post-COVID-19 Multifamily Living. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from
Capelleveen, E. V. (2018). Social balconies [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from
Chayka, K. (2020, June 17). How the Coronavirus Will Reshape Architecture. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from
Duivenbode, O. V. (2018). Three Generation House [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020.
Fairs, M. (2019, May 10). Maggie’s Centre by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners wins Stirling Prize. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from
Karantzavelou, V. (2020, June 2). Travel resuming, but only 44% of Americans planning trips in 2020. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from
Naomi A. S. (2020). Access to Nature Has Always Been Important; With COVID-19, It Is Essential. HERD, 13(4), 242–244.
RHSP. (2009). Maggie’s Centre [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from
Spolidoro, B. (2020, May 29). How Architecture Can Defend Us From Germs, Bacteria, And Viruses Like COVID-19. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://
Vasiliu, T. (2013). Outside [Ellebo Housing Renovation]. Retrieved 2020, from
Wigglesworth, S. (2020, June 19). The Design of Homes post-Covid. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from

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