Architects around the world sound off on how the COVID-19 pandemic will change our homes—and what “shelter” means in the new normal.
As the new coronavirus continues to spread, cities and countries around the globe have ordered citizens to retreat to their homes—and stay there. As we shelter in place, the rooms where we once spent few waking hours now encapsulate our entire existence—and this short-term recalibration may have long-term effects. We spoke with seventeen architects and designers to find out what the COVID-19 pandemic means for the future of home design—read on for their thoughts.
David Montalba, founder and principal at Montalba Architects
There could be a shift in buying markets, where people look to secondary cities and more remote locations that offer them the space they’ve been neglected during this time. Furthermore, those in urban areas might consider self sufficient design elements like sunrooms or spaces for urban farming to accommodate for a lack of outdoor space.
Quilting together indoor and outdoor spaces continues to be a common thread between our clients, and we only see it increasing in importance following this time.The global footprint may continue to retract as we reconsider the safety and cost effectiveness of sourcing materials from non-domestic locations. What previously was at our fingertips is no longer easily accessible, which will push us to be more thoughtful when sourcing and look to domestic companies to get materials to us in a timely manner.
As we spend more time in our home we will grow to appreciate ways in which we can conserve energy through thoughtful design and added technology. For example, we’ve had projects that incorporate solar panels and battery charging stations, as well as air filtration systems.
The importance of storage will swell as people seek more ways to cleverly conceal personal and household items. Currently, we’re learning how important the organization of our space is in promoting productivity.
People will value their homes more than before, and aim to make spaces more functional and fluid in their purposes. Underutilized spaces are now being used in varying ways, from mud rooms being transitioned into temporary offices to living rooms becoming spaces for physical activity.
At the core of our ethos is simplicity. We see people appreciating simpler lifestyles, whether at home or in life, now more than ever in a world that’s so complex.
Rick Joy, founder and principal at Studio Rick Joy
When I look back at my earliest projects I didn’t think much at all about working from home. But as I grew up a little bit and designed a nice house for myself and a few clients that prefer to stay home, I started designing roof terraces where you can kind of pace around and do conference calls. The whole mechanics of staying home all the time came to bare. And I do it all the time now—I walk around a deck I designed for myself so that I could stay home and do conference calls at midnight with Dubai.
Other than that, I don’t think the humanizing virtues that have kept us alive in our homes forever will change that much. I’ve said this a million times: we all sit in a chair the same way and we all look out the window the same way. I’ve been in charge of making really soulful homes for people for 25 years.
I’ve designed so many home offices for people and then at the end of the day they prefer to sit at their dining room table, next to the kitchen so they can get themselves another cup of tea. I do that at my own home. I did an interview recently and I had to force myself to get into my home office. I just prefer to be in the kitchen, where the hearth of the home usually resides.
The open kitchen and open living room—one big space—makes it really easy for us to stay home with our spouse or our family and stay separate to an extent, and enjoy the big volume of air. We’re all drawn to it right now.
Lisa Gray, founding partner and principal at Gray Organschi Architecture
We love doing open design—that’s what our clients want and we do what I think are very open and wonderful feeling places. But it’s also incredibly important to be able to go and close a door even if it’s in a tiny tiny place. This has always been needed for mental health and privacy, but it’s now needed so that people can get their work done. So what do those kinds of things look like? And how accommodating within a small space can you be to create opportunities that really require privacy yet still have a convivial and communal space?
Through a project in Japan we’ve been learning a lot of lessons in thinking about that incredibly dense country and how they’ve managed to protect concepts of privacy, individual space, and a real sensitivity to the relationship between the individual and the family, and the family and the neighborhood. It’s usually taking space in a very small amount of square footage through very careful layering of design from private to public. That goes for access to the outdoors as well. Just a tiny little pocket garden—four square feet like that—can provide a huge boost in the experience of being inside of a place.
I’ve been thinking about the American post-war bathroom; five-by-seven-foot, tub shower, sink, and toilet, all in that little space. It turns out that when a whole bunch of people are living in one space that maybe that’s not such a great idea. The European or Japanese model of separating some of those fixtures so that multiple people can have access at the same time is actually a really good plan.
What this wouldn’t be is turning everything into wipeable surfaces—not antiseptic, but anti-antiseptic—because people need comfort in their homes, and the mainstays of that are still light and air and access to the outside.
Maura Trumble, associate at CCY Architects
Residential design has been focused on an open floorplan for a number of years—it’s often the defining characteristic of most of the homes we design for our clients. While this allows for spaces to flow together and open up to the outside, that connectivity can be a detriment for functional privacy. This experience highlights how a home needs to have the capability to flexibly function as more than just a gathering/living space.
Suddenly, we are all using our homes simultaneously as offices, classrooms, conference rooms, and gyms—with multiple users at the same time—and dealing with the consequences of the open floor plan. Some of us are in guest bedrooms now converted to offices (with a modicum of privacy), while others are at dining room tables or set up in master bedrooms, further blurring the oft-touted and ever-important line between work and home.
A result of the COVID-19 experience may very well be a wider acceptance of work-from-home policies and telecommuting, given the baptism by fire that the professional world is currently embarking in. How do the spaces we live and eat and play in also allow for a functional and separate use for work? How do smaller spaces perform multiple duties, but still create a separation of work life and home life? It seems like this should be another lens through which we evaluate the design of homes.
Vicki Yuan, associate at Lake|Flato Architects
In planning for the future, we expect that climate change and environmental degradation will increase with each passing year, and we as architects understand how to address these known certainties. But no one predicted that a global health crisis would upend our lives, fundamentally shift how we live in our homes, and impact the future of residential design. This pandemic serves to remind us how important our houses are to our daily well-being.
Houses have the power to bring joy and meaningful connection to our physical world. And in this moment of being homebound, while we need our interior spaces to be flexible to accommodate temporary activities, more importantly we need to enjoy the space regardless of what function it serves. We delight in natural daylighting, quality materials, healthy indoor air quality, and access to livable outdoor spaces. In many ways, this analog moment is a return to simple living, and in designing future homes, we will think more about what is essential to the experience of how we want to live.
Matt Krissel, partner at KieranTimberlake
Certainly, the current health crisis is causing many of us to see our homes in a new light. It remains to be seen how our newly acquired habits and behaviors might become more permanent. More businesses may accept working from home, modes of teaching and learning could change, and just spending more time at home than we used to will all have an impact on the design of single- and multi-family homes going forward. It wouldn't surprise me if people had different expectations and aspirations for what a home can and should be after we emerge from this.
Ryan Leidner, architect and founder of Ryan Leidner Architecture
In terms of design, I think people are seeing their living spaces as their refuges—sanctuaries where they're safe and comforted. In the short term, as the outside world becomes less touchable, I can see a great desire for the materials, textures and objects within our homes to have more of a tactile quality that invites us to use them. As access to the outdoors becomes more limited, I can see people getting more creative and interested in ways to bring the outside in, possibly re-imagining their living spaces as indoor gardens and landscapes.
Brian MacKay-Lyons, architect and founder of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple has always questioned consumption, and in a way all of this is reinforcing business as usual for us and our work. We’re interested in economy as a democratic idea—houses should be economically accessible. It’s the same way Frank Lloyd Wright thought about his Usonian homes, and how Ferdinand Porsche thought about the Volkswagen.
People think sustainability is a new thing, but traditional cultures have always operated this way—in terms of economy. Economy is what you do when you can’t afford to get it wrong. That’s how we look at vernaculars. As architects we’re in the aesthetics business, and economy is universally an aesthetic idea. We’re doing more with less. It’s "frugal chic."
Maybe the pandemic is underlying what’s always been important, and we’ve become decadent and forgot. It’s about connecting interiors to outer landscapes. It’s about the idea of prospect and refuge. We need that in our dwellings and always did, but especially now. We need that sense of looking out at the landscape and into the future.
I also want to mention urbanity. We’ve gone a long ways away from making good communities. When you design a dwelling, it’s about privacy and community at the same time, which is what we’ve been focused on. We’re making villages where homes feel private but also give a sense of community, like what we’re doing in Shobac. It’s essential to have eyes out on the world, because you want to see what’s coming. That’s a basic human comfort. It’s timeless and universal. I’m not a fashion guy, I’m more interested in elegance and timeless principals. The crisis is making us rediscover that essence.
Dan Weber, architect and founder of Anacapa Architecture
Like millions of others, everyone in my company is now working from home. Video calls from home give us a very intimate window into each other’s lives. We see kids in the background bouncing on the couch, dogs barking, people in their pajamas, significant others...it’s been a bonding experience. Almost everyone has been loving it, and most of us have said that we feel more productive due to fewer interruptions than normally happen in our open-office environment.
However, this level of total isolation is extreme. We need to be around each other—we need to draw together on paper, build models, walk to the coffee shop, print things, throw things, look at books, hug people, and do normal human things. When this ends, we will recalibrate, but it won’t go back to the way it was before.
This experiment, especially if it lasts a long time, is going to completely redefine our ability to work from home. Companies, including us, are being forced to learn how to accommodate this, and we will find the silver lining. I think this is going to allow us more flexibility to enjoy our homes that we spend so much time creating, while still holding ourselves and our teams accountable for being effective and productive.
I can imagine, with millions of employees all working remotely, that after companies learn how to effectively work from home, they will start to reevaluate how necessary their physical office spaces are, and how much money can be saved if employees work from home at least part of the time. Some may find that they only need half as much space as they did before, and that they only need a physical office for staff meetings and in-person client meetings. But in order to make this work, there will need to be serious changes to the "home office" idea. This health crisis could possibly have a long-term effect on how important a home office—or at least a working nook—is in residential design.
Maziar Behrooz, architect and founder of MB Architecture
We’re already seeing some short-term effects: people are now spending more time at home, and finally focusing on long-overdue improvements (bigger pantries, more defined work spaces, and adding/upgrading guest bedrooms). More generally, I see a very dramatic surge in interest in our prefab buildings, from all over the country (and in fact, the world, based on our web stats). And finally, there’s a surge of city residents who’ve moved out to the country and are looking for a permanent second home. My own sense of how this affects future home design is that the fundamentals of domestic life—centered around life at home versus perceptions of luxury—will prevail. And that would be a very good thing.
Robert Sweet, founder and creative director of Ras-A Studio
The pandemic has given people (who might not already have experience with it) a large dose of working remotely. This might offer businesses and employees alike a glimpse of its potential and staying power. It could have us rethink what a home office is—and its priority in the program of a home.
Lauren Geremia, interior designer and founder of Geremia Design
In times where people are resourceful and want to be connected to others, there are really beautiful things that can happen. What are the opportunities that come out of times when people have economic restraint? Or fear? I think creativity is attached to being resourceful and I live for these times because right now is when people are open minded. Instead of throwing money at something they’re being bold and thoughtful with their ideas—I’m hoping that’s on the horizon.
I feel like people have a lot more space to dive into conversations because they’re not distracted by getting into the next meeting. People and corporations have been way more attentive to design, and more thoughtful and immersed in conversations, which will have a great impact on the projects. Clients have more bandwidth, honestly. Tuning in on a deeper level has positive results.
A lot of my clients in the bay area tend to have minimalist and modern style. But I’m hoping people will be more sentimental and will be more open to bold choices. I know a lot of people that have called me to say "I’m ready to paint my room." It’s kind of low hanging fruit but people are bored and want to do home improvements. People are feeling a little less hesitant about experimenting. I’m hoping color is something that’s big time.
There’s no reason to procrastinate and there’s a feeling of satisfaction in doing things like painting a room or hanging art that’s been sitting in the attic. It’s like a marriage. When you stay in a marriage long enough you start to shake out things and work on things that you wouldn’t normally have time for. I think when your faced with living with something for long enough, you learn how to work with it and you learn how to love it in a different way. I think that’s one positive thing to come out of this.
Bryan Young, founder and principal of Young Projects
"Well design" standards will incorporate new criteria for the residential market. This will inspire architects and designers to consider new ways we can think critically and creatively about domestic environments. For example, the importance of green roofs might be completely reconsidered...which, in turn, may necessitate structural retrofitting for existing buildings, and increased standards for new residential buildings.
Joel Sanders, founder and principal of Joel Sanders Architecture
Retro futurism. I see a return to a high-modernist aesthetic championed by architect Le Corbusier at Villa Savoye: sparkling white rooms, tile, and porcelain fixtures that convey a visual sense of health and hygiene. Think of a sink that greets visitors at the entrance to Villa Savoye.
In regards to the home office, over the past decade digital technology has already transformed homes into live/work spaces where, over the course of a day, people assume a variety of personal and professional roles. The pandemic now requires almost all of us to work from home, putting pressure on all of us to retrofit our homes with technology.
Barbara Reyes, director of design, interiors, and branding at Frederick Tang Architecture
There are 8.55 million people living in NYC—the largest amount in any city in the United States. The average space per person in the city is around 531 square feet. This opens our eyes to problems with affordable yet available housing, and how we can resolve space in an efficient way so residential living does not feel cramped—one of the reasons why New Yorkers leave their spaces and go out. We are human and still need connection and social activity. There will always be a need for communal spaces, but personalizing each home will be very important. This approach will make sure that people are comfortable in their own space without the anxiety of wanting to leave.
Michael K. Chen, founder and principal of Michael K. Chen Architecture
In previous crises, the home was a refuge, a place to retreat to. Now, it’s quickly becoming a place that people are looking forward to leave on a regular basis. I wonder if private space will take on some of the dimensions of the public space that so many of us are missing. At the same time, I think that the crisis has laid bare the shortcomings of our social fabric and safety net. Certainly in New York, there is the near-universal awareness that public schools not only educate our children, but also feed them. I hope that this awareness informs how schools are resourced and designed in the future
Patrick Lam, founder and creative director of Sim-Plex Design Studio
As more and more people work from home, we need to find ways to combine living areas with work spaces—but we should be careful not to decrease the quality of either space. Since space is limited in most homes, flexibility is key—for example, a dining room table can be transformed into a work space using flexible partitions. Our Arc Village Studio project is an example of how rooms can suit different functions without degrading the quality of those spaces.
Lead illustration by Arunas Kacinskas
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