New York City Architecture/Design

The pandemic has us rethinking open plan residences

By Constantine Valhouli  |  August 19, 2020 12:25 PM

Image via Wikimedia Commons

It's fascinating to infer history through architecture and design.

In the city, apartment buildings with underground garages began to proliferate after World War II. Apartments with dining rooms – the 'classic five' or 'classic six' room layouts – tended to be in prewar buildings. Viewed from above, it is easy to see which tenement buildings were built before or after the laws which required more air and cross-ventilation, from their distinctive barbell shape in the plan view.

Earlier pandemics have also shaped buildings. The traditional steam radiators tend to have two settings – off, and tropical rain forest. To use Silicon Valley's term, this wasn't a bug but a feature. Although to those of us living in these buildings, it's a bit like Microsoft's Clippy the talking paper clip ... a feature one wishes they could disable. These were often designed and installed to produce more heat than was needed, in order to be run with the windows open to encourage ventilation during the Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 20th century.

The coronavirus has us rethinking open plan residences. What had previously felt spacious and uncluttered now feels deeply impractical. The shortage of walls and discrete rooms that can be closed off is suddenly a tremendous drawback, as an entire family may suddenly be working from home and attending online classes in one apartment or house. Suddenly, a residence which was only occupied after work and for sleeping is suddenly doing duty as an open-plan office. With all the drawbacks of an open-plan office.

It will be interesting to see whether some of these lofts and open-plan apartments will be restore walls and doors that had been previously removed.