The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many industries into foreign territory with the challenge of improving employee and customer safety standards to combat the airborne virus. The architecture industry stands at the forefront of these new challenges by implementing innovative safety guidelines that affect everyone, and some of these changes are not readily apparent.
From determining the distance between students’ desks, to the placement of outdoor coffee shop tables adjacent to sidewalks, to the delineated customer walking path to a restaurant bathroom—all of these require creative thinking to implement new regulations and standards. Such measures may seem fundamental, but they are increasingly necessary due to the erratic nature of this virus and the growing number of variants.
One more complex and unseen challenge that architects face is improved ventilation. Although some speculation remains regarding the role of air circulation and virus travel, such as how long droplets hang in the air, the push for buildings to ventilate outside air is increasing quickly and poses design challenges in existing structures.
Another area of challenge is in the educational system. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is preparing for the reopening of schools, and is proposing many new strategies for a classroom environment with student and faculty safety as the main priority. These measures include modified acoustics for better hearing (especially if students and teachers are using masks) and touchless appliances like sinks and fountains. Not every school system may be able to implement these safety measures due to cost or feasibility, but the AIA is taking steps to establish a template for the educational system to follow.
One forward-thinking company, The Rockwell Group, has taken charge in the design of outdoor dining—providing kits and instructions for restaurants to follow which maintain safety precautions for customers and employees. These measures include walk spaces for all pedestrians, table-to-table patterns for social distancing, and architecturally closing off street lanes to create outdoor booths and spacious tabling setups. The instructions are provided to promote innovative safety precautions and possibly spark additional workable ideas for restaurant owners themselves.
Another group at the forefront of innovation is Perkins and Will, which is in the process of developing a roadmap for offices to fully and safely reopen. Carefully following public health guidance, Perkins and Will created a model for office workspace layout and travel functions—including plans for commuting, office socialization, and use of various spaces within the office.
With respect to ongoing regulatory and compliance measures, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are creating numerous benchmarks to ensure that a quality health environment is being maintained at every business. The pandemic has continuously necessitated new guidelines from these administrations and will test each company’s prioritization of employee and customer safety.
Some companies will, and have, failed these guidelines. As of July 7, OSHA had issued 484 violations related to COVID-19, and 24 of these were received by Texas businesses with fines amounting to over $200,000. Unfortunately, some of these violations were issued in connection with COVID-19 exposures that resulted in employee deaths. Although architectural templates are available and may be viewed by all businesses, they are only the foundational piece in how pandemic safety measures may be implemented to increase safety. Owners and employees within every business are the critical puzzle pieces in minimizing the pandemics’ longevity.
Some of these regulations may fade as COVID-19 becomes less of a threat over time. With these ever-evolving regulations and guidelines, the architectural sector will have to continue to be a safety leader as we all prepare and adjust to our new ways of life and be prepared for a potential new virus in the future.
Creedon PLLC continues to assist in the formation of new businesses, while keeping OSHA and CDC regulations at the forefront during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has brought hardship and the loss to many, innovative entrepreneurs have found opportunities to scale while prioritizing safety and contributing to public health efforts. As we move towards a post-COVID future, we are confident some of these architectural innovations will become a long-term trend—and that is a healthy move for all of us.