History has shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that infectious disease outbreaks have always come with innovations in urban design. For this compelling reason, it is safe to say that architecture can and has always helped in combating epidemics. For instance, in the 1800s, the cholera epidemic led to the introduction of new plumbing and sewer systems. It also came with fresh zoning laws that ensure that there is no unnecessary overcrowding.
The coronavirus is today’s cholera epidemic, which, from every angle, is demanding broader changes to our economy. The architectural sector is not left out; now, more than ever, there is a need to review our current city and building designs. For instance, we are seeing the importance of public spaces and buildings with designs flexible enough to make them fit for a different use, especially when we have a disaster or epidemic on our hands.
Apart from serving recreational purposes, public spaces should be able to serve as logistics and treatments in cities, especially in the event of a disease outbreak. The roles of urban designs in outbreaks should also be another area of interest, considering that the spread of an epidemic is significantly affected by the model a city has adopted, which, in turn, affects population density. These and many more are what architects are working on, as potential architectural responses to unusual situations like we are currently facing.
Crowds and virus spread are inseparable. However, this can be curtailed with improved designs of public places. For example, security screening at airports can be redesigned to ensure that passengers do not have to assemble into a crowd while waiting to board. We can also have improved airports where security screening lanes are more extensive, thus reducing pinch points in passenger flow. Combining this with automated screening lanes will make the area less congested while reducing physical contacts and wait-time.
The possibility of screening passengers when they board autonomous vans to the airport rather than in the airport is also under consideration. Better space planning in the airport can reduce crowd sizes and queues of passengers waiting at the gates to board their flights. Interestingly, a crowd will eventually be formed when everyone gets on the airplane. This puts passengers at risk, especially when sitting close to a sick person. Filtering the onboard air and consistently discharging it will fix this issue because the further circulation of the contaminated air is limited. This type of air quality treatment can be replicated in other situations, especially when indoors.
Improved, Anti-Infection Building Designs
Humans spend up to 90% of their time indoors. This is why we have newer air-cleaning technologies like UV-C light and advanced air filters. These air treatments can be remodeled to remove viruses in the air while increasing the lifespan of the equipment. The option of traditional air filters may be more expensive, considering that pushing air through the filters require more energy. Buildings should also be designed such that sufficient fresh air finds its way inside. With abundant fresh air in circulation, the occupants are less exposed to transmissible agents. For the future, we should be expecting sensors that can do a real-time detection of surface viruses. This can trigger warning systems to alert occupants or initiate an automatic mechanical air scrubbing procedure.
Indoor temperature screening systems will also come handy in detecting potentially sick people. The technology is currently in use in China, where officers rely on the infrared thermometer and thermal imaging to assess temperatures of people. This has helped the country significantly in its fight against COVID-19, with faster detection of potentially- or fully-positive patients. While this is not a positive test for COVID-19 and other viruses, it comes handy in reducing infection risk significantly or the need for masks and similar protective gears.
Ordinarily, people with fever are at the infectious stage of their illness. These temperature-monitoring systems and gears can quickly detect such individuals and direct them to the right quarters before they infect others. Some United States Hospitals are currently using this technology. However, there are calls to extend them to buildings and public places as a first and essential line of defense against diseases.
Special Hospitals for Outbreak Situations
Hospitals can be remodeled and better prepared for infectious disease outbreaks. For instance, the ambulance bay at Rush University Hospital, Chicago, can be closed off to allow safe evacuation of patients before admitting them to the hospital. There are negative pressure zones designed to isolate virus spread in several areas. We are also seeing more special telehealth centers where doctors can attend to patients remotely without any physical contact. Making this a norm will help to reduce physical contact as well as the spread of a virus.
More Parks is necessary for city areas
One way of preventing the spread of endemics is to ensure that everyone stays healthy and strong. Vitamin D, especially at high levels, can reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infection. Unfortunately, the larger population of Americans lack a sufficient amount of Vitamin D. Creating more outdoor spaces can quickly fix this. If there is a good number of parks around, people can spend time outdoors, exercise, and get some Vitamin D into their system. Vast outdoor spaces also reduce air pollution – a leading cause of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and other life-threatening diseases that increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
So, with sufficient parks insight to clean the air, and walkable neighborhoods to encourage exercising and Vitamin D absorption, the human race stands a better chance against these endemic diseases.
Handwashing is the latest trend
Handwashing is a simple yet effective way of keeping everyone safer. Therefore, handwashing arrangements should be everywhere and for everyone. For example, Rwanda currently provides tons of temporary handwashing stations for citizens to wash their hands in different parts of the city. These are even common at bus stations, banks, restaurants, and supermarkets, where passengers and riders are expected to wash their hands before boarding vehicles or entering these places.
Current city designs should be modified to accommodate these infrastructures as permanent components of the system, especially in important public spots. There are hardly sufficient public restrooms for everyone to wash their hands, hence forcing people to take avoidable risks. Urban areas can adopt a design similar to what is obtainable in hospitals – strategic positioning of sinks to encourage handwashing.
Finally, it is essential to note that these proposed infrastructural redesigns can never replace public health efforts, especially in the event of an outbreak. However, with every indication pointing to potential future outbreaks, as well as an impending population explosion, it is only reasonable to effect such changes. These solutions are essential, in every sense of the word, if we are serious about preventing another ugly situation like what we are currently experiencing through COVID19.