The most important thing for us to remember is that our industry has created the most-used product of 2020; The homes that people live in and will continue to do so. Our homes are now offices (often multiple offices), gyms, classrooms, creative spaces, restaurants, spas, and include every aspect of a modern lifestyle. COVID-19 will unquestionably change how homes will be built in the future. At this moment, what we need most is to be empowered with the right information to make decisions, even if short-term as long-term decision making still remains a moving target. More than anything, we need to adapt and be adaptive to keep moving forward.
When Hurricane Sandy severely impacted New York in 2012, the questions that everyone looking at new development began to ask were “Where are your mechanicals located (not in the basement)?” followed by “How many backup generators do you have?” When The Millenium Tower became the Leaning Tower of San Francisco in 2018, the questions everyone began to ask were “How is your foundation structured?” followed by “How readily available and transparent is the information to support that?” Architectural Digest recently highlighted some of the everyday things in our homes that were a direct result of adapting to prior epidemics. In the post-COVID-19 world, the questions we need to be prepared to answer may be:
“How are my home and the shared common spaces designed + built to allow me to spend more time in them than I ever have before?”
“What are the specificities on how this development is designed + built to handle another epidemic or pandemic?”
As the industry is debating the long term impacts + desirability of urban or densely populated communities we will continue to design, build and market the developments that people will call home.
Here are the five planning + design collaborator disciplines along with some helpful questions to encourage discussion.
01 | Design: Think Globally, Design Locally
Global firms that maintain a presence outside of the United States such as Benoy, SCB, SOM, and Woods Bagot are just a few companies that have beautiful portfolios alongside proven experience in markets that experienced the after-effects of epidemics such as SARS. Their knowledge base is already ahead of the curve, having navigated the design nuances and production intricacies brought to light by those moments in time.
Furthermore, pairing those companies who possess global experience alongside collaborators with local experience will ensure that authenticity and global-thinking complement each other. This approach will have a higher investment of start-up time initially; they may occasionally question each other (sometimes spiritedly), but the end result with a strong vision steering the ship will always be a notable yet highly authentic + relevant development.
Discussion Starter: Which companies have the best prior epidemic experience that we can bring to our development? (This question can and should be expanded to other disciplines)
02 | Building Systems: The New Paradigm
Some of the technical adaptations that developments made post-SARS included air filtration system overhauls, water supply, and drainage adjustments alongside basic policy + best-practice adjustments. The best and most up-to-date ideas for our industry right now are coming out from the commercial, mixed-use, hospital/ healthcare, and industrial space sectors. These include no-touch door systems, UV sanitizers, antimicrobial fabrics, hospital-grade disinfectant delivered via robots + adaptive cleaning processes, with some purely via robotic delivery to ensure that essential building support staff are protected from infection.
Delos, a company that has already been ahead of the curve with its Darwin offering, has released a great guide for HVAC guidance to reduce viral transmission that is relatively painless to understand. Brett Hautop, the Senior Director of Global Design & Build for Linkedin wrote this excellent article on how office environments are being improved for the future. One reason that the labor force has returned to work in China so quickly is that office buildings have been installing high-end air filtration systems for several years now; China even introduced its own indoor air certification standard in response to rising pollution. Cushman & Wakefield recently introduced their “six-feet” concept.
“As employees prove their competence working remotely, they will only grow less tolerant of workplaces that fail to promote health and well-being.”
Which for us, means that they will be even more demanding of the places that they choose to live in and work at.
Discussion Starter: What are the new safety, hygiene, features, and functionality features that acknowledge post-COVID-19 environments? How do we then embed them into a development while continuing to provide a seamless + flawless resident experience?
03 | Amenities: Wellness Redefined
Common amenities will require a full adaptation and a healthy amount of time spent on reevaluation at this point; what follows are a few areas that I would focus on first. Wellness has been considered an actively evolving amenity over the last few years; we are now being introduced to the concept of “social wellness.” How do we safely co-exist, connect, and most importantly, thrive within the fabric of a community while acknowledging that physical distance is a necessary part of that? Gensler just published a very thoughtful article about redefining wellness as part of their larger thought leadership on COVID, and I loved this quote:
“What isolation is teaching us now is how important social ties are.”
In the past, wellness has primarily been defined as self-care, with a focus on one’s physical + mental health primarily managed by the individual. What is now being introduced into this environment is the care of one’s physiological health — how do our bodies adapt to changes caused by stressors in our home environments? Now, how does our home environment that has been designed by others contribute to all three types of well-being? Many of us have been working from home, which is an entirely different concept from “working remotely” while we will undoubtedly do more in the future. Per Savills:
“The London Housing Design Guide, which sets the standard for residential development in London, now requires new homes to provide sufficient space to allow working from home….Developments are now offering an increasing amount of flexible workspace. Demand has shifted from areas that may previously have been designed as a small private gym or residents’ bar to communal work areas.”
I have begun to see more buildings with three pre-development consultants for design — one for architecture and the exteriors, one for the residence interiors, and a third for the amenity and common areas. The result is a diversity of thought with a benchmarked shared aesthetic that truly makes the end product special + memorable. I also love looking towards commercial and hospitality spaces for wellness-focused amenity inspiration, a few recent highlights were the Proper Hotel Residences in Austin, along with the multi-faceted work of firms Joyce Wang Studio and Frampton Co
Discussion Starter: How do we intelligently (keeping to budget) design + plan for the physical, mental, and physiological health of our future community and residents?
04 | Community: More Important Than Ever
This does not require contracting with another consultant or officially establishing a public-private partnership. It is a conceptual approach that begins with simply asking for input + feedback, while acknowledging that when things move forward or there are opportunities to promote offerings or businesses, you will also provide ethical + fair help to them.
San Francisco’s forward-thinking PR firm, Pembroke PR successfully helped introduce La Cocina, a new food destination, by combining luxury expertise alongside thought leadership + connections needed to communicate a more mass-market offering. COVID-19 has of course affected La Cocina, but a comprehensive site with ways to help + vendor resources were put in place very quickly, which will give the businesses a higher chance of survival. The High Line in New York stands as one of the best public-private partnerships that has provided use to people across all income levels. This is a phenomenal read from HBR about P3 partnerships.
“At the crux of successful P3 infrastructure projects is a simple but difficult-to-achieve construct: each party must be as committed to achieving the others’ goals as they are to their own goals.”
Essentially, whether on a small or large scale, we need to engage with + support our communities more than ever in order to succeed. COVID-19 has laid bare how dependent we are on each other for success.
Discussion Starter: How are we for the short and long term engaging with and supporting businesses in our locales?
05 | Focus Groups: Tomorrow’s Answers Today
This may be a do-over of a recent exercise but it is necessary to review in-depth again, and most likely repeat. Depending on the type of development that you are building or improving, feedback can be gathered via a quick survey, small teleconference group settings, or individual one on one calls. For custom-branded surveys I like Typeform. To present limited information in a beautiful format, I love ISSU. I would have a sampling of people that are relevant ambassadors of the end product: agents, renters, buyers, retail brokers and so forth. A few thought-starters for the things your team needs to begin to understand.
How do people see themselves returning to a new normal?
How important are the amenities that a city offers?
What do they wish they had in their homes?
What were the most difficult aspects of working remotely?
What do they wish they had in their common spaces?
What brands did they admire during COVID and why?
What tools are they using to manage their lifestyles?
Now, aggregate these learnings and apply them to your team’s planning, design + marketing thought processes. When appropriate, I recommend taking the time to handwrite a thank-you card and also send a small token of appreciation — it goes a long way — you may want to call on them again. Too often we sit in a conference room (or Zoom call) with the same people, week after week, year after year which can inhibit how much current information we are basing our decision-making on.
Discussion Starter: How current is the information that we are basing our decision-making on? What are the new pieces of information that we need to understand about COVID-19 impacted resident needs?
Next time, I will share perspectives from top industry collaborators, consultants + vendors, and how they are currently executing assignments in their respective disciplines. Until then, I hope that you and the ones that you care about stay safe and healthy.
Originally published at ButterflyVoyage.com