IN THE SPOTLIGHT ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

How has the pandemic affected architects’ livelihoods? Two architects from Japan & Malaysia share essential lessons & viewpoints

Satoshi Kurosaki (right) graduated first-class from the General Design Department of Architecture, The Japan Institute of Architects. He established APOLLO in 2000, which has offices in Tokyo, Okinawa, Korea and China, with residential, villa, resort, clinic and commercial projects making up its primary portfolio. Kurosaki is a prolific architect who has designed over 150 buildings for over 16 years in Japan. 

Michael Ching (left) is the director of CH&I Architecture; a council member of Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM); a member of accreditation panel of the Green Building Index (GBI); and honorary secretary of Malaysia Green Building Confederation (MGBC). He holds a Bachelor of Arts in architecture from Deakin University, Australia; and Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Malaya.


Will architecture and design be changed permanently by COVID-19?

SK: The COVID-19 pandemic worldwide has taken away face-to-face communication and actual in-person experience from many people. As we are now forced to communicate indirectly via technology, I feel that developing houses and offices based on remote working will be required urgently. Epidemiologists have predicted that the virus may be embedded in communities for a long time, just like HIV or measles, and that the much-hyped second wave is not unlikely. Designing built environments that cater for health protection is extremely necessary, even after the outbreak is under control.

MC: I think architecture is a very sophisticated industry as it involves many layers of sub-industries. As such, I don’t think the current pandemic will impact the way architects approach general design in the future, but it will impact several aspects of building designs. Firstly, government public buildings will have to be more flexible to accommodate future pandemic and disaster needs. Second, hospital and healthcare facilities will require more single-bedded and isolation rooms; and better indoor air quality to minimise airborne infections—such as by flushing more fresh air to reduce recirculation and by installing better air filtration systems. Lastly, all public buildings will have to introduce all types of touchless technology, such as automatic doors, voice-activated lifts, mobile phone-controlled room entry, hands-free light switches, temperature controls and water fitting.

Developing houses and offices based on remote working will be required urgently in response to the current situations; image by Masao Nishikawa/apollo-aa.jp

What are architects in Malaysia/Japan currently doing to sustain their livelihoods?

SK: This might sound surprising but I have been receiving requests for new architecture projects more than ever, so I have become busier. The fact that I have received new consulting-related work indicates that business resilience remains strong in some companies. I believe there has been a decline in many other typologies, especially for large-scale projects, due to restrictions in mobility and material procurement, but I think the demand for residential spaces will still be high, especially because of the stay-at-home order and the work-from-home scheme.

MC: Most companies are slowing down to reduced expenses and are probably focusing on administrative work and planning. A few companies that have contracts with the government are still working at the same pace, most likely because their projects are essential, such as roads and infrastructures. I think architects are coping with the situation differently in accordance with their institutions’ roles in the market.

What makes an ideal work-from-home situation?

SK: Within the limited space, the key is how to have quality working space and spatial function differentiation that encourage switching off mentally from work. Specifically, what would be much appreciated are facilities such as a meditation room, a gym for a healthy physique, or a kitchen with café-like space to relax and unwind.

MC: Work-from-home will be definitely the new trend. What people need would be a dedicated study room with noise cancellation for e-conferencing and a high-speed Internet connection.

Home design should include differentiation of spatial functions so dwellers can switch off mentally from work; image by Toshihide Kajihara/apollo-aa.jp

What about building amenities? What would you consider the most essential?

SK: There will be a continuous need for proper social distancing, both in residential spaces and office buildings. It should be an advantage to have full services such as concierge, receiving courier, grocery stores or restaurants within the building, or at least in the complex within a walking distance. Technology will still be the most essential feature, such as the touchless devices. As for building resiliency such as self-sufficient power or water filtration systems, I think it would be difficult for every household to have self-sufficient water supply and keep quality assurance at the same time.

What might be more crucial are home automation functions that would allow direct communication between homes and hospitals, which could raise awareness of preventive actions and speed up the access to healthcare services. Installing thermal scanner at an entrance could help visualise residents’ health conditions and that would help prevent transmission, at least among family members within the house.

MC: Shared common properties like lifts, gyms, pools, children playgrounds and so on will need to be redefined. Building management corporations should include disinfection plans in all these common areas. On the contrary, I don’t think home automation and thermal scanner are our most immediate needs. I think what we need is sustainable design. In many countries, most residents’ activities are restricted to indoors due to the movement control orders. Therefore, Green buildings now play a more significant role than ever for providing better indoor air quality, more natural ventilation that allows for more fresh air and less recirculated air. Also, with the probability of faecal transmission—which is still under research but highly possible—using rainwater and grey water harvesting will prevent contamination from external sources.

To optimise airborne infection control, it is necessary to have natural ventilation that allows for more fresh air and less recirculated air; image by Masao Nishikawa/apollo-aa.jp

How would you design your own home in a pandemic or post-pandemic time?

SK: From now on, I expect that work-from-home styles will increase. If I were to design my own house, it would be great to have an outdoor kitchen, a home office and a home gym. Basically, I would like a home design that enables us to do more activities within the living spaces. Also, I like the idea of having two different homes—one in the city centre and the other in a resort area—so I could move back and forth as I like. 

MC: As I mentioned previously, I don’t think I will change my design paradigm significantly, except for some building features such as the ventilation system. That being said, I will make necessary changes only if there is an immediate need to, i.e., if such a feature is in the design brief. As for my own house, if I were to design a new one, I would design it based on my current views about an ideal home, which would already encompass the needs in a pandemic situation, such as good air circulation; a dedicated study room; a rainwater harvesting system; and other features of sustainability and resiliency.

Green buildings now play a more significant role than ever for providing better indoor air quality; image by CH&I Architects

As an architect, on a personal level, what can you take away from the pandemic?

SK: For future living spaces, not just to respond to the pandemic, I believe the key is to balance two elements in one single space—such as physical and mental; private and public; on and off; interior and exterior. Open-plan design is always timeless, but there will be a necessity to have a well-balanced space where open and close areas coexist.

MC: As mentioned above, I don’t think there will be radical changes, except maybe in a few aspects. However, architects are often inspired to come up with fresh ideas during pressing moments. Let’s hope new ideas will emerge. Most of us are still trying to survive the situation right now, but as soon as lockdowns are lifted and we come to terms with the new normal, I’m sure ideas will flourish. But I do concur with the idea that open-plan design will remain popular due to its flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

– Construction+ Online