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COVID’s Creative Outpouring
Check out the speculative design concepts that have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic
Parc de la Distance, Studio PrechtReminiscent of a particularly panic-inducing hedge maze, Parc de la Distance is more a pandemic-appropriate riff on a Japanese Zen garden, where park-goers would be able to enjoy a contemplative and orderly constitutional without worrying about hordes of fellow fresh air-seekers coming from every which way. Studio Precht, a small Austrian firm based in a secluded, mountainous area outside of Salzburg, elaborated on the concept, which is geared toward a vacant lot in Vienna but can be replicated on any unused patch of urban land:
“Although our ‘Park de la Distance’ encourages physical distance, the design is shaped by the human touch: a fingerprint. Like a fingerprint, parallel lanes guide visitors through the undulating landscape. Every lane has a gateway on the entrance and exit, which indicates if the path is occupied or free to stroll. The lanes are distanced 240cm [8 foot] from each other and have a 90cm [3 foot] wide hedge as a division. Along their path, people walk on reddish granite gravel. Although people are visually separated most of the time, they might hear footsteps on the pebbles from the neighbouring paths. Each individual journey is about 600m [1,968 foot] long. The height of the planters varies along this journey and gives different levels to the hedges throughout the park. Sometimes visitors are fully immersed by nature, other times they emerge over the hedge and can see across the garden. But at all times, they keep a safe physical distance to each other.”Studio Precht envisions the concept as being a useful feature for green space-starved cities in the post-COVID era as it “offers something very unique for bustling urban areas: A brief time of solitude. A temporary seclusion from the public. A moment to think, to meditate or just to walk alone through nature.”
Hyperlocal Markets for Shutdown Realities, Shift Architecture UrbanismDescribed by Rotterdam-based studio Shift Architecture Urbanism as a “self-initiated research-by-design project,” the aim of this concept is twofold: To keep fresh, nutritious, and locally grown food flowing into local produce markets while reducing the risk of spreading the virus among shoppers at said markets, which are frequently prone to overcrowding but are also often lower cost than supermarkets in many areas.
“Shift’s proposal is to keep the vital function of the fresh produce markets fully intact, even strengthening it, while at the same time minimizing its potential role in spreading the virus. For this, the large markets have to continue in a different form, place and time. Its former model of concentration has to be replaced by a model of dispersion, both in space and time. This is done by breaking down the large markets into so-called micro markets that are spread over the city and opening them up for a longer time. Instead of you going to the market, the market is coming to your neighborhood. These hyper-local markets are open at least 5 days a week instead of twice a week to further reduce the concentration of people. “The micro market’s standard spatial setup consists of a 16 square grid, aligned with three market stalls, each selling a different kind of fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products or meat. The grid is taped on the pavement and fenced off with standard crush barriers. It has one entrance and 2 exits. In order to maintain social distancing each cell can only hold one person. In order to permit movement, the grid can only hold a maximum of 6 people. These rules are made clear at the entrance of the micro market, that has a waiting line taped on the pavement. The stalls will offer packages instead of separate products, to limit the time customers spend in the grid.”Shift added that current restrictions on open-air produce markets vary wildly in the Netherlands from location-to-location and region-to-region.
Airport Superhospital, Opposite OfficeEverything from convention centers to soccer stadiums have been transformed into temporary medical hubs during the coronavirus pandemic. Benedikt Hartl of the Munich-based Opposite Office, the same firm that pitched transforming Buckingham Palace into a co-living complex, envisioned this form of emergency adaptive reuse as also being extended to incomplete airport terminals. Under construction since 2006 with a potential completion date of 2021, Hartl sees promise in the delay-plagued Berlin Brandenburg Airport—or other underserved and non-operational airports, really—during the crisis (although said crisis in Germany has now largely passed). Hartl’s concept involves populating the uncompleted airport’s vast floor space with round modular steel cabins that serve as self-contained treatment units for patients.
“Flying was no longer in vogue even before the outbreak of COVID-19 and now the avenge of shame has given way to a deadly risk of infection. We agree that we will certainly not need this new airport in the near future,” read a press release from Opposite Office. “An advantage would be that infected people would be completely isolated at the airport area and would not come into contact with other patients. The main building alone, with an area of 220,000m2 [2.4 million square feet], offers plenty of space for medical (emergency) care. The existing airport offers untapped potential.”
Container Ship Hospitals, Weston Williamson + PartnersWhile converting seafaring vessels into floating hospitals is far from something new, a concept from London-headquartered architecture firm Weston Williamson+ Partners proposes the specific repurposing of container ships to serve a similar purpose. Well, kind of. Ideally, the containers would be unloaded at different ports in hard-hit regions and then used as makeshift intensive care units on land. “The idea came to us because we work around the world and wanted to try to encourage a global response,” firm co-founder Chris Williamson told AN in an email of the scheme, which is somewhat similar to an initiative underway in India with modified rail cars. “Many countries do not have an exhibition centre waiting to be fitted out as a hospital as we have done in Manchester and London.” “The speed at which Excel in London and GMex in Manchester have been repurposed suggest that the idea is possible and the container module is ideal for an intensive care bed and equipment for the benefit of emerging economies,” Willamson elaborated. “We have ascertained from the shipping companies that there is an available capacity of around 1,000 ships with around 3,500 containers per vessel.” Williams goes on to make clear that “patients would not stay on the ship except in circumstances where there is no place to deploy the containers” and that the container-based care units would have one of the steel doors removed and a transparent Perspex door installed in its place. The modules would also include built-in air conditioning units. “All we need is the political will to make this work and we are working with a few influential people to that aim,” Williamson said. It should be noted that, as with many shipping container-based projects, the feedback online hasn't been entirely positive.
Mobile PPS (Personal Protective Space), Plastique FantastiquePlastique Fantastique, a Berlin-founded art collective known for eye-popping inflated installations, has created a PPS (personal protective space) for healthcare workers that can be swiftly deployed to a wide array of environments. As Plastique Fantastique explained, this “pneumatic space where doctors can treat patients in transparent protective space. It has constant overpressure, which means, the air flows only toward [the] outside of the space, not letting the virus coming inside. The clean air supply is guaranteed by a ventilator located outside or in an extra decontaminated space.” The bubbly blow-up Care Units, made from transparent polyurethane, can be attached to each to form larger contiguous spaces, and are accessed through special airlock chambers that maintain air pressure and provides medical workers with a space to prepare and disinfect before entering.
AD-APT, Woods BagotWith offices shuttered across the globe and workforces now operating in domestic trappings without any clear end in sight, global architecture firm Woods Bagot has envisioned a super-versatile living modular system dubbed AD-APT that “supports a range of activities throughout people’s days” while more easily accommodating “spaces for exercise, entertainment, digital collaboration, connection, and focus (without becoming isolated), alongside the traditional activities of eating, sleeping, and washing.” “While this trend has been on the rise over recent years the immediate, en masse shift to WFH exposes the benefits (and challenges) to a far wider range of the population than ever before,” explained the firm. “This will lead to significant change in people’s work habits and expectations. As more people become comfortable with working remotely, they will expect to be able to do so more often. This will change the way we design and use our workplaces, schools, and homes.” In response to this quickly changing dynamic, AD-APT enables WFH-ers to modify open-plan apartments to suit their needs whether they're in a so-called “split-shift” residence where working parents tag-team childcare responsibilities and job-related tasks or a “double desk” living environment where roommates rotate to different work-friendly spaces throughout the day. “Creating a spine of the fixed needs of a home (bathroom, entry, storage etc.) allows us to create an open and flexible apartment that can adapt to varying needs across modes, ” elaborated Woods Bagot. “The AD-APT includes a range of consistent elements which support the mode switching of the main spaces. AD-APT includes an entry porch which provides both an opportunity to meet and stay in touch with your neighbours and additional storage for bikes, coats and shoes. Beyond the entry porch the spine includes a bathroom and two flexi-booths. Around the entire apartment extensive storage is provided to allow for filing/appliance and other materials needed to blend living, working, and learning.”
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New Models: Report on recent student organizing at YSoA
I will leave school being far more impacted by the knowledge gained by stumbling into unprompted side conversations/debates amongst classmates than I will from listening to a lecture. These invaluable assets have been robbed from us for the second half of the semester. We should receive some type of compensation for an extremely negatively altered semester.Others were concerned about mental health:
General mental health has been compromised as all the things we seek out to help us maintain a healthy work life have been taken away. In conjunction with sustained high expectations for the rest of the semester, this will no doubt have an extremely negative affect on some students, if it hasn’t already.Some urged patience:
This situation is not a personal attack on anyone. Our faculty is likely losing work outside of Yale; people are literally dying. We will endure hardship, but most likely not the worst of it; please maintain perspective.And a few of the responses kept it simple:
I know you tried.The richness of the survey responses stood in contrast to the paucity of the administration’s response thus far. From the tangle of the 150 student submissions, some general patterns emerged: A concern for the declining quality of education, a call for additional financial or physical resources, and for additional career guidance. These reflections were synthesized into a collaboratively written letter which, together with the unedited survey responses, was sent to all of YSoA on the first day of online instruction. Instead of reducing the survey responses to a lowest common denominator, our process embraced the difficult whole. Beyond sharing and framing the survey results, the letter insisted on equity and empathy:
“This letter contains many voices, but we are all unified by a single ethic—that resources be generously allocated to those most in need and most affected by the crisis in order to ensure that our education continues in an equitable way. Some of us have personal or family resources to put towards our transition to online education while other of us do not. But one thing, oft-repeated at 3 a.m. in Rudolph Hall, is doubly true in this crisis—all of us are in this together.”The administration’s response came a little over a week later. Dean Deborah Berke’s letter restated previous commitments while rejecting proposals for equitable financial redress, health care extensions, and future facility access. YSoA offered additional lectures on professional development and the economy. Earlier on, the school had distributed laptops to some students without a computer at home. The feeling of many students, though, was expressed by a meme on a YSoA-adjacent Instagram account that summarized the administration letter as “1. Sorry 2.We 3. Can’t 4. Help 5. You.”
To continue the conversation started by the survey, dean Berke offered to meet with an elected committee of four student representatives. There was little interest in this proposal because the wider collaborative process, though rough around the edges, had proved effective in getting the breadth of student concerns heard. Sensing that the initiative to move forward would have to come from below, a group of first-year students decided to hold a ‘Zoom-Out’ to gain a wider perspective. Half sit-in and half town hall, this meeting (held over Zoom) was scheduled during studio the next day. By holding this meeting during class time, students sought to demonstrate that their response to this crisis was integral to their education. The student response put forward an alternative to top-down models of architectural pedagogy by practicing horizontal forms of consensus and solidarity. A few days after the first-year town hall, sensing that their call for representatives had missed the point, the administration asked to hold a series of discussions with students. These talks have taken place over the last few days and student participation has stayed widely collaborative, with students volunteering to voice a specific concern or to relay questions from questioners. These processes are ongoing and, like the crisis, they don’t seem to be abating soon. While this collaborative organizing happens in universities, parallel efforts are underway in the profession. The symmetry between the academic and professional settings is apparent now more than ever. Students at YSoA with partners or spouses who are practicing architects are now working side-by-side in the same home office. The move to telework in academic settings exactly follows the same move in the professional practice of architecture. The response to the crisis by Yale University, as well as many architecture firms, shifts costs onto students and workers while abdicating responsibility for these changes. In the working world, this response amplifies the precarity of the architectural worker, whose at-will employment now takes place in their own home, often on their own computer, and often with their own software. In academic settings, where students from diverse backgrounds engage in shared education, the response threatens to increase the inequity that education claims to combat, as students of means can complete projects that those without sufficient resources cannot. These situations are structural conditions and not only individual miseries. Accordingly, they deserve a collective response. The work of The Architecture Lobby, which has strong associations with YSoA, has done important work in formulating what this response may be within the profession of architecture. Our current work at YSoA puts forward a similar vision of solidarity and collective action. The previous generation at YSoA advocated for a pluralism of style and critical modes; we seek a polyphony of voices within a collective approach to organizing and architectural practice. A generational shift can’t happen soon enough. This letter, and our organizing, is animated by our remembrance of Michael Sorkin. “Don’t mourn, organize!”View this post on Instagram
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“Delays to work that can safely continue from our homes will further hinder our city’s recovery efforts and create challenges for middle-class New York families, including many union construction workers and MWBE architects, engineers, and general contractors. “We strongly recommend that you allow design and construction work to continue to the maximum extent permitted under New York State guidance. Furthermore, we ask that all design and construction that has already occurred be compensated.”While the letter has yet to receive a response—likely due to the all-hands-on-deck tumult the city is facing—Prosky hopes that Mayor de Blasio will reconsider. According to him, “Design work now during a downtime means construction jobs in the future, and it will take that much longer for everyone involved to start moving things along again.”