Building Readiness: The Influences of COVID-19 on Architecture Design

Written By: Steve Knutson, Principal Architect, NCARB, AIA, LEED AP

Originally Published in the July 2020 Duluthian


There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has – and will continue – to present new challenges for everyone. As government officials begin to lift Stay at Home Executive Orders, architects are here to help transition facilities to ensure safe and functional environments.

As building owners, managers, and employers plan the function of their buildings, one key factor we have become acutely aware of is “building readiness”. The concept of readiness planning has continually shifted through states of flux, growing, evolving and expanding to the foreseen.

The mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 placed spotlights on both the threat level and prevalence of gun violence in schools, forever changing the educational design process. Experiencing the incomprehensible terrorist acts of September 11th forced readiness evaluations and security measures, both built an procedural, to the forefront of every design discussion regarding public space. a saddening increase in mass gun violence in workplace, worship, and recreational facilities have all contributed new criteria for readiness planning. Similar to these events, and others that have shaped our built environments over the history of time, the current COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to address new challenges as design professionals.

Preparedness, Flexibility, Resiliency, and Adaptability

As we experience the beginning stages of stability, we have been exploring ways to prepare buildings for resiliency and adaptability. A multitude of words and terms is being utilized to discuss this response and how it materialized. At DSGW, we have been studying “building readiness” through a dedicated task-force. Task force members are searching for answers to questions like: What does readiness look like? Is it something that can be blanketed across all projects? Are there parts of readiness that are universal to all projects? Understanding we that we still have more questions than answers, our task as design professionals is to hypothesize and challenge, utilizing our skill sets and those of a broad-based team to implement solutions. Understanding that this will look different for every organization, facility and occupants is a critical first step when starting to plan for readiness.

Utilization of design software and virtual reality to run simulations and test implementations allows for real time refinement of outcomes. Traditional mapping, diagramming and on-site evaluations are also critical tools that design professionals can utilize to assist clients with implementation or readiness response. Undoubtedly, as we hear the efforts of technology giants dedicating resources in the fight to track and monitor the Corona Virus, develop a vaccine and expedite testing, the role of technology in readiness planning cannot be understated.

The Role of Technology

We have all seen the growth and adaptation of technology shift our social norms and impact our daily activities. In looking at the opportunity for building readiness, we need to look at all the tools, both currently available and in development, to see how they may address current challenges.

One area of growing interest for many facilities (including our own) is temperature verification technology, used to monitor personnel accessing a building. Integrated technologies are ideal for companies looking for an efficient solution for increasing safety and precautionary practices. When we start to assess an existing facility for implementation of technology responses, it requires more from your design professional than a space-needs assessment. We need to be engaging project owners so we can fully understand employee and customer interactions, touch-points and processes for the development of readiness implementation.

Going Forward

In our work, we have an obligation to our communities to create readiness solutions that enhance our buildings when implemented. What the pandemic has taught us is that we as a society have to continually evolve and adapt to the environment around us and find ways to protect the health and wellness of valued employees and customers. COVID-19 didn’t come with a user manual. We are committed to research and to help businesses develop a modification plan for their current buildings as well as implement best practices for new developments.

The Duluthian