Designing offices that respond to the aftermath of a pandemic

Designing offices that respond to the aftermath of a pandemic

Ajay Gupta, Executive Director, KGD Architecture, sheds light on some of the design parameters that the firm has translated from the healthcare segment into its office design

Interview, Ajay gupta, KGD Architecture, Corporate design

Times like this has taught us that the best thing about mankind being a social animal can also be cause of its downfall. The biggest collegemate of humans working together in large groups and cross-pollinating knowledge base around the world, belongs the technology sector.

The global growth is driven by technology but that’s the space which needs the maximum intervention so we all can feel safe and secure from any pandemic or an epidemic.
Today we see thousands of  us, white collared workers working in collaboration sitting in a single space, interacting, brain storming and then travelling to do the same in different parts of the world.

We all have become global citizens, we all are exposed to everything on a single plate, no boundaries and no borders. All this sounds very progressive and growth driven, but has comes with its challenges, we still need to secure our boundaries, not from the knowledge sharing and growth opportunity but, from our physical environment. We need to start innovation the way the commercial interior spaces are designed and operated.

We need design ideas which help screen the physical health of everybody working together.
We need design  ideas to take care of crisis management for every large-scale office space.
We need design  ideas to start compartmentalizing the space to help quarantine but not the flow of work.
Today I am probably stating a conversation of what we need in these large corporate environments. Hopefully we will first identify the needs which make us future ready and then steps to find the solutions

Q: How is the Covid-19 pandemic impacting office design and its effect on the future of work?
Covid-19 as an Pandemic is and will be ever innovating  design space especially for the office Buildings, which is one of the largest building types which houses a huge amount of people at any given time.
In last 3 decades we have mimicked the western architecture of a glass box with conditioned air to sort human comfort, ignoring the value and the essence of a freshly  and naturally ventilated buildings.
In short we will start appreciating the basics of human existence in a space rather than the superficial comfort of right amount of light, temperature, humidity for comfort level.

Once the design will innovate so will the work culture, somethings which are taken for granted will become a luxury, the some luxury will come with a work environment being more sensitive to human needs.

Q: Given KGD has been at the forefront of both healthcare and office design; what are some of the design approach and parameters that the firm has translated from the healthcare segment into office design?
Healthcare is one of the few sectors which ever talks about infection control, now that mindset has to translate in every other building type. The use of soft surfaces in an office building for flooring or for pinup boards or for acoustic reasons needs to be thought through from an infection control parameter, as all soft surfaces have a tendency to hold infection causing bacteria or virus in the porous structure, as is not a scrub able surface for cleaning purposes.

Air quality management will also play a key role play in the work space to, we don’t segregate  zones in the work space, moving forward zoning of spaces with respect to physical barrier and especially air conditioning will help quarantine certain zones in a work place if the need arises.

Q: Disease containment was never really a priority within workspace design; how important is it to consider interior architecture and design in its prevention now? How are companies reciprocating to the same?
Disease Containment is just a reactionary term for purely just good practices, the norms of good practices will change post COVID-19 for sure. As discussed before, The need to be able to quarantine a space, cleanable/scrub able, isolated spaces in a work environment will be the norm as we move forward. 
The companies today are actually targeting of on 4 things the most to open soon.

  • Cleanness/ Hygiene of the Space
  • Social Distancing in the office environment.
  • Air Quality, via Cleaning the HVAC systems and creating Fresh Air circulation Systems in place.
  • Employee Awareness

Q: What are we learning about the role of design in the current corona virus outbreak?
Design will be the medium to create a culture change in the work place now, as we transition into a new way of working, design will play a crucial role to help navigate this change and even front end it in some ways.

Q: Given the present lockdown, and the mandated social distancing, which is likely to continue even post the lockdown period, how is the firm coping up with its change in work processes and schedules?
Few points are discussed above but even beyond that, the firms are all innovating the work culture, the biggest challenge is how to re-densify the work place for social distancing within the constrains of the same space available. Some ideas like partial work from home for a percentage of the staff, shift ideas and even re-densifying the secondary spaces like conference rooms etc so the distance between the work force can be ideal in this scenario.

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