By Duo Dickinson
Seismic forces change architecture. COVID-19 will change the way humans think about buildings — just as those other seismic cultural shifts shaped how architects shaped buildings.
The industrial revolution made new building types simply because they were needed. After World War II, technology overwhelmed factory-centric cities and the massproduced automobile and massmade Eisenhower federal highway system created suburbia.
In the last two generations, world population doubled, and the world has become fully “international.” In 1966, people flew a combined 500 million miles on airplanes, a figure that multiplied 12 times by 2016.
Then “New Urbanism” evolved and offered as a way to undo often disastrous effects of urban renewal, where the buzzword “walkability” invited density. Now density is a leading factor where COVID-19 is the most devastating.
This unintended consequence has greatly alerted the architecture community. Association of the Collegiate Schools of Architecture held a cyber meeting in mid-April: “The Great Transformation: Redesigning
the World Post COVID-19,” where professors from all across America held a 90-minute discussion to “suggest seeds for a preferred world.” The topic “Density and Mobility” evolved to “Density and Design” and “Density and Housing.”
“A most unfortunate outcome from the COVID-19 crisis could be that it may be used as an argument against density and cities,” says Michael Lykoudis, former dean at the Notre Dame School of Architecture. “That is already happening in some discussions regarding how we live together. That argument will be that this ‘straw person’ is used to further erode what is left of the idea of inseparable connection between civilizations and cities . ... Without cites we will not be able manage the coming deluge resulting from global heating and the collateral disasters that it will bring.”
The urgency of these responses conveys the literally mortal danger that two century’s worth of rising population and exploding cities have facilitated. The desire of architects to vision the largest meanings and consequences of this instant crisis is understandable. International connection, mitigation of carbon creation, energy efficiency and social economics may become the baby thrown out with the bathwater.