How will architecture adapt to Covid-19 and beyond?

 

The global Covid-19 pandemic has created a new world for all of us. While the fight against the virus continues, we are all learning to adjust to life in a socially-distanced society. How we move through our cities, towns and villages has changed, and we have had to refamiliarise ourselves with adapted indoor and outdoor spaces. What will these changes mean for the design of housing, work spaces and placemaking in the future? We think there will be some key changes that architects will need to respond to.

RISE Design Studio architecture and Covid-19

Seeing our homes in new ways

Even those of us who have always loved spending time in our homes will feel, after many weeks of lockdown, overly familiar with our own living space. Bedrooms have become the office or the home gym, kitchen tables have become the home school, and the quiet space that was once a reading nook may now be overrun by all members of the family seeking that rare moment of solitude.

As we contemplate the reality of more time in our home in the weeks and months to come, we are valuing our homes more than ever before and thinking about how to maximise the space. Storage has become more important as we appreciate the simplicity and order of life at home while the world outside seems increasingly complex. What was originally a temporary workspace may become a permanent feature and this presents an opportunity to create a soulful space that inspires creativity and productivity.

Even the tiniest bit of outdoor space has provided a huge boost for those lucky enough to have some. For those without, sunrooms or spaces with good quality natural light for urban farming provide a welcome alternative.

Perhaps the most important question is about how we delineate the spaces in our home that we use to rest, eat and play from those in which we now work. How can smaller spaces be used to perform these multiple roles but still allow a separation of home and work life? The creative solutions need to flow.

The importance of our local surroundings and supply chains

The pandemic has made us all acutely more aware of our local surroundings and what effect these can have on our health and wellbeing. Encouraged to walk, run and cycle close to home, we have become very familiar with our local streets, paths and parks, perhaps much more than we could have ever imagined.

As many of us continue to spend more time at home during the working week, there is an opportunity to implement energy-efficient standards, and push for faster decarbonisation of heating systems to ensure the carbon footprint of the home is reduced and energy costs are manageable.

New developments will need to adopt strong placemaking principles likely walkability to local social infrastructure. This will be crucial to ensure that local businesses can be accessed quickly and safely, particularly as home workers are likely to make these sorts of trips more regularly than in the past.

The longer we spend without regular social contact, the more important our greenspaces become for our mental and physical wellbeing. There is a need to embed these spaces in our local communities and look after them for the years to come.

Adaptable and healthy cities

Perhaps most striking has been the decline of the use of cars in our cities. Streets have been left empty and air pollution levels have dropped significantly. As people are converted into ‘full-time pedestrians and cyclists’, the benefits of making streets safer for those of us not in vehicles couldn’t be more apparent.

There is likely to be a greater focus on health in city planning and development. For example, in Singapore, therapeutic gardens have been built into public parks, and in Tokyo citizens are working with urban designers to create more greenspace in their neighbourhoods to improve their health.

Across the world, architects have been working hard to identify and adapt buildings and other spaces into temporary health care facilities. The pandemic has highlighted the need for fast design and build projects, which has made the use of modular construction – buildings assembled using prefabricated modules – more common.

Perhaps most exciting is the growth in the adaptive reuse approach to design. Using existing structures to serve new purposes, this is a real opportunity to use a sustainable and efficient approach to upgrading our living environments in this new world.

Rammed earth walls: natural and sustainable living

 

‘Rammed earth’ is a technique for constructing foundations, floors and walls from natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel. With the lowest enviromental impact of all building techniques currently used in the commercial construction industry, rammed earth is receiving growing attention and becoming more and more popular with architects, builders and clients alike. In this short post, we tell you a little more about the technique.

Rammed earth walls RISE Design Studio architect west london

Mixing it up

Rammed earth walls are made by ‘ramming’ a mixture of materials into place between flat, temporary panels called ‘formwork’. The panels are normally made of wood or plywood and they are clamped around the earth to make sure it doesn’t bulge when compressed. The materials rammed into the formwork generally include gravel, sand, silt and a small amount of clay.  An additive like lime, cement of asphalt is often added to make it extra strong.

The mixture is compressed inside the formwork by a mechanical ram and compacted to approximately 50% of its original height. The compression takes place in stages, usually in depths of 10cm to 25cm, and this is repeated until the top of the formwork is reached. This is the part of the process that results in the beautiful layers sometimes seen in rammed earth walls.

After the wall has been completed, the formwork is removed and a surface texture can be applied, e.g. by wire brushing or carving. The wall is normally too hard to work on after about one hour. As the walls dry and harden (ideally in warm weather), the compression strength of the rammed earth increases to a maximum of 4.3MPa (620 psi). This is less than concrete but sufficiently strong for domestic buildings.

Environmentally-friendly

Cured rammed earth has a high thermal mass. This means that it absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, which reduces heating and cooling costs. Environmental impacts are also kept low if the amount of processing of rammed earth materials is kept to a minimum (i.e. artificial additives) and material is sourced locally where possible. Most of the energy used in the construction of rammed earth is in quarrying the raw material and transporting it to the site.

Healthy home

The composition of rammed earth allows it to absorb and release humidity from the inside of a building. This improves air quality, particularly for people who suffer from asthma. Rammed earth is also inorganic, which means that it won’t decay and does not support the growth of mould.

Back to our roots

More than 30% of the world’s population uses earth as a building material, hence this technique is not new. Properly constructed rammed earth can also last for thousands of years, demonstrated by the many ancient structures built using this technique which are still standing around the world.

It has received growing attention in recent years as the construction industry and its customers have a growing sense of the need for environmentally friendly and sustainable building practices. Not only does the technique offer opportunities for carbon-neutral building projects, the technique can be employed in a wide range of climatic conditions and for developing housing that would otherwise be constrained due to expensive construction techniques.

It is a technique that we have been exploring at RISE Design Studio, particularly in our drive to use local, sustainably-sourced building materials.