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January 21, 2021

ACEC Research Institute Panel Examines Building Density in Post-Pandemic World

In an expert online panel last week, the ACEC Research Institute examined what long-term impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the design of buildings, including offices, classrooms, and health care facilities.

Participating in the Building Density in the Post-Pandemic World panel were Sabrina Kanner, EVP of Development, Design and Construction, Brookfield Properties; Colin Rohlfing, director of sustainable development, HDR; and Kate Wittels, partner, HR&A Advisors, Inc.

Here are the highlights from the panel discussion:

Changes in Building Design. A large number of design changes, which apply to all densely occupied buildings, are already being implemented to address safety concerns now and in the future.

  • Pre-entry screening areas where individuals can be assessed for the possibility of infectious diseases prior to entering the main building.
  • Increasing the amount of fresh air coming into the building, purifying recirculated air with UV lights and/or HEPA filters, and increasing air exchange rates per hour.
  • Safe dual passage within buildings, ensuring wide enough hallways to maintain social distancing.

Technology. Building designers are looking to use technology to complement the new needs of occupants. When it comes to office high-rises, facial recognition, heat scanning, and touchless entry are all on the table. For education settings, designers are digitally connecting every classroom to allow for hybrid learning or remote learning as needed.

Workspace. In healthcare settings, hospitals are focusing on creating “convertible wards.” In the past, hospitals had a finite number of ICU beds with the remainder of the hospital beds not being equipped for use as ICU beds. Now, they are working to create flexible non-ICU wards so that hospitals can convert these areas into ICU beds if necessary. This involves implementing various types of air filtration and circulation controls as well as other protocols.

In office buildings, designers are focusing on flexible uses of space. The continued demand for working remotely (with the flexibility of working in the office as well) will result in smaller office footprints and more shared spaces. The challenge here is not in the building design itself, but in the management of the space. Who will use which desks on which days? Where will meeting rooms be located and how will those spaces be managed? Knowing workers’ locations will be important in managing space.

Outdoor Space. The increasing use of outdoor space will be critical in the future. For healthcare workers, outdoor space will be needed to take a break from the stress of their work inside the building. This includes “respite spaces” on every floor of hospital buildings to allow for easy access. For office workers, making better use of outdoor space will also contribute to the health and wellbeing of workers, although spaces can be constructed for meetings or individual productivity.

Click here to view the roundtable discussion.

All comments to blog posts will be moderated by ACEC staff.


January 21, 2021



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