When Roar founder Pallavi Dean uploaded sketches of a concept for hands-free doors to social media, the response was immediate. The drawings, were intended to spark a discussion with the designer's network, but tapped into much wider thinking that has seen the interior design industry look at how it needs to adapt its output into a world stalked by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Though her artwork was a concept, designers have the resources to include touch-free technology in their projects. She says: "The good news is that touchless technology already exists – it's just a case of using it. If Siri or Alexa can turn on the TV and open the curtains at home, he/she/it can replace most of the physical touchpoints in a public building.
"Call an elevator; open a door; flush a toilet; write your name; show your ID. The main reason these things aren't commonplace in building interiors is that some clients, contractors and suppliers have been stuck in an old mindset. This could be the jolt they need."
Materials that have previously been value engineered out could now become essentials to a design brief, she adds.
"Take anti-microbial materials. For years design consultants like us have been specifying anti-microbial products. Both specialist materials like paints, surfaces and fabrics that have been developed with anti-microbial properties, and natural products like copper. "But here's the problem: they get value-engineered out at the last minute. No more! As with touchless tech, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or fire here – we just need to use it."
The wider industry is already working on solutions to be built into architectural and interior designs. UAE-based lab Immensa Technology Labs has created 3D-printed material that it says could reduce the risk of virus transmission. The Copper3D antimicrobial filament, known as PLACTIVE, could be used on covers and casings for frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as door handles, light switches and taps.
Caparol Arabia has launched anti-microbial paint that claims to secure surfaces and walls from bio-harm. And JAFZA-based company Just Right has launched anti-bacterial barrier for use across public places. The acrylic sheets, branded as rightSHEET™AM, acts as a protective shield to protect surfaces and prevent infections from spreading.
With so much innovation in the market, it's clear that the interior design sector and its wider components are looking forward to a brighter, if very different, future.
She talks about what she learned from those projects: "When you're thinking about high-traffic public areas such as airport lounges, as designers, we have an innate desire to envision spaces that are instantly memorable, bright, buzzy, and vibrant. The design of such spaces, however, requires that we look at practicality, accessibility and durability first and from a different angle. Aesthetics come second.
"In high-traffic spaces, it is highly essential that visitors are not stopped by any obstacles, hence integrated passenger or customer flow conditions are paramount we have to consider before even putting a pencil on our sketching paper. When we worked on the Emirates First Class Lounge. We considered the above-mentioned requirements alongside the privacy issue. Every person entering that lounge is a VIP and needs to be treated as such. So the lounge furniture and materials we've used had to both elegant and durable as well as cost-efficient. At the time, our team worked closely with Emirates on the overall passenger flow to ensure that people can circulate without any intrusion into each other's private spaces.
"Furthermore, when we were designing Marhaba and DNATA lounges, the time and passenger frequency largely influenced our design. The time the passengers spent inside these spaces is more limited, so the overall design is focused more on the activity and frequent in and out of passengers, hence the durability and easy maintenance of materials played a vital role in the overall selection of materials and furnitures, fixtures and equipment.
"While providing both design and build services, we came across areas where the smallest design detail can have a significant impact on the flow and functionality of the space. Similarly, when looking at some of our high-traffic office projects, including VFS Global visa application centres, apart from a heavy footfall, the security is very stringent. Streamlining the process and improving efficiency in circulation is the prime objective.
"The technology advances are now allowing spaces to be more conducive and flexible to accommodate different needs. It is changing the design industry in many unexpected ways.
"Advances in technology are being made at such a quick pace that it's just about impossible to keep up. It seems as though as soon as you imagine something – which may not even be invented yet – someone in the world is already working out a way to make it possible. These changes are not isolated to one particular industry, and they are fundamentally shifting the way we, as designers and humans, interact with our surroundings. As knowledge work becomes more collaborative, many office spaces are evolving to become mostly shared spaces versus individually assigned work settings, which brings to light the need to minimise sharing sickness and different virus outbreaks.
"Today with the scare of virus attacks looming over our heads, we are forced to rethink how one needs to include these instances in design. Are we looking to include a healthcare initiative into the basic design of all public and high-traffics spaces? Antibacterial ceramics that keep your bathroom more hygienic, mouldable metals that can be set and unset, and fabrics that actively cool the air around them as well as intelligent use of microbial surfaces are inevitably becoming topics of the present, not the future.
"And to me personally, I would like to see that Bio-inspired design becomes the new trend, the latest buzz and the next big thing for all of us working in different design fields."
Mohamed Rezk is commercial manager at MB Consultancy, a leading architecture and engineering service provider that specialises in research driven innovation. He says: "The design and construction of healthcare buildings require a specialist design and organisation due to the healthcare and patient priorities that will inhabit the space. The understanding of quality in healthcare buildings has changed over time, while in the beginning, the architecture was taken in the same sense as structural security, aesthetics, and functional efficiency; afterward, physical and psychological needs played a crucial part in the design.
"Nowadays, when healthcare buildings are constructed, it has become compulsory to design these buildings to provide a healing environment. The understanding of quality in healthcare buildings has changed over time as compared to the past.
"The main priority in the design and construction of healthcare buildings such as hospitals, healthcare centres, rehabilitation centres, and surgical rooms is to make sure that we develop a calm and comfortable environment for the patient admitted and visiting, the patient's relatives accompanying them and healthcare personnel's.
"The aesthetics of the space has become far less important as it will often affect the healthcare services provided in the building. Healthcare buildings are to be designed and constructed in a way to allow easy access for elderly patients. It is always recommended to use wide walkways and corridors for all the hospitals to cater to regular movements around the facility.
"The core factor that needs to be given high priority is that while designing a hospital architecture, it has to be patient centric. For example, patients and their relatives may be anxious or upset, at this point the design of the space should help to calm and comfort the patient and relatives. Children need to have a bright and vibrant atmosphere to feel comfortable so colours play an important part in the children's wards.
"Every detail of every section of a medical facility needs to be carefully thought through so as to maintain its requirements and sole purpose. Some key points of design are mentioned below, and all points should form the design development plan, also ensure medical professional guidance and research is included in the plans to ensure all important factors are covered."
He goes on: "The design should reflect the appropriate space standards and include all the technical standards which need to be met such as material, accessories, visual, auditory, thermal and comfort conditions. Patient-centred design should be accessible.
Future trends in healthcare design could includ:
- Integrated patient care with research and development.
- Further separation for patient care and public space.
- More research and development labs constructed globally.
- Enhanced segregation areas within medical facilities.
- Redevelopment of current facilities to maintain a physical distance-apart environment.
- Investment and research in the use of anti-microbial materials.
- Anti-microbial surfaces could start to appear further in the medical design field, but investment and research is required in the use of these.
"As the global pandemic continues to spread across the globe, more and more employees are being asked to work from home in order to combat the current scenario and maintain social distancing. Some industries are hit harder than others, especially the airline and tourism industries.
"When a major event like this strike, the resilience and determination of the governments rely on a quick and immediate response from its country, be it a natural disaster such a wildfire, tsunami or earthquake to immediate evacuation of an entire city. Coronavirus was no exception and China enforced an immediate response to the outbreak by building new hospital facilities to hold the vast numbers of patients.
"The city of Wuhan, China, was believed to be the first point of contact for coronavirus and when the virus took hold and spread across the city, they took an immediate decision to build new hospitals that would be constructed in a matter of weeks. The Leishenan hospital was constructed in just 10 days, with more than 12,000 workers working 24/7 it was a titanic collaboration of the brightest engineers, architects and construction personnel to deliver such a project in this timescale. The new hospital is now treating thousands of patients every day and is going some way towards containing the crisis and isolating the infected from the general population.
"Incorporated in the design were high tech ventilation systems and complete isolation which would halt any virus spreading within and outside the facility. How will coronavirus affect the implementation of architectural designs of hospitals in the future? It's difficult to say. There could be further enhanced sanitary, ventilation and quarantine levels in all medical facilities throughout the world."