Fatima Abel, an alum of IE University’s Master in Business for Architecture & Design and member of the IE School of Architecture & Design and CPA Nextgen’s International Talent Taskforce, shared her thoughts with us regarding the transformation taking place across the built environment to make wellbeing a priority across all types of design.
The relationship between wellbeing and architecture has been a popular topic for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the impact of design on wellbeing and mental health front and center. No longer able to enjoy the freedom of choosing when we wanted to occupy which spaces, we were forced to accept the limitations of whatever space we had to occupy as the pandemic played out. The quality of these spaces had a significant impact on individual wellbeing; in fact, Fatima notes that cases of depression in the UK increased three times from 10.9% in 2019 to 31% in 2020.
Given the importance of space and design and the increased overlap between where people live and work, the principle of wellbeing in design will remain a key consideration in the future architecture of the built environment in all its scales: from cities to our offices and homes. Even as spikes in mental health issues return to pre-pandemic levels, Fatima says, the new blended working patterns necessitated by the pandemic will remain. “The dynamics of the world are changing, and so will the spaces that we interact with,” she tells us.
A central element of newer hybrid working models is the use of a single space for multiple tasks. With the rise in telecommuting, the home will no longer be simply a place to sleep; instead, homes will become second offices, and they will therefore require a whole lot more. “We will need more space, and we will be eager to invest more in the comfort and the wellbeing of those spaces: generous sizes, good air quality, greenery, open spaces such as terraces and patios, and flexibility in terms of the layouts and uses,” explains Fatima.
Companies were already dabbling in these solutions prior to the pandemic. Fatima provides several examples of recent technologies that address the needs for and of diversified spaces, such as Hasier Larrea’s flexible-robotic furniture brand, ORI. ORI was developed at MIT and sponsored by Ikea, and it provides layout solutions to optimize small spaces for daily activities. Flexible-robotic furniture redesigns the dynamics of what is possible within a limited space, using automated movement to reorder the objects in a room as needed.
Another example Fatima gives is the environmentally conscious Veolia group, which is currently developing an air-control monitor called “AIR Control COVID” that will focus on spotting risks for the spread of viruses. Veolia—a company dedicated to sustainable waste, water and energy management—uses smart sensors in the Air Control Covid system to regulate indoor air quality.
Office spaces will need to undergo a similar transformation to remain relevant, says Fatima. “Unless we transform the workers’ experience in the office space to make it more convenient and attractive, and we convert them into a destination with a different purpose than the old-fashioned working place, these areas of the cities will be deserted.” Office spaces must therefore be adapted to better match with workers’ expectations to foster wellbeing and greater productivity.
In our conversation with Fatima, she cited several additional companies that are looking toward the future of office space. For example, ThirdWay, a UK-based interior design company, has launched the “Hybrid Working programme,” a service to help corporations turn workspaces into an appealing post-pandemic environment that encourages employees to return to the office. The Hybrid Working Programme and other efforts like it will inform the future of workspaces across a range of sectors.
Similarly, the US-based company Lending Tree decided to investigate why employees were reluctant to return to the physical office. The answer turned out to be simple: the organization needed to weave the aspects of working from home that employees loved into the office environment. This was termed the “Resi-mercial” concept as it is a combination of residential and commercial interior environments.
Lending Tree aimed to recognize the plethora of needs workers have when considering its new workplace design, designing a versatile office with a headquarters that incorporates quiet individual zones, libraries with materials and the latest technologies, traditional meeting rooms, and common areas with numerous devices that promote interaction and socialization between colleagues. This resi-mercial space thus offers something for every type of worker.
On an even broader scale, our chat with Fatima as well as the results of the second meetup of the International Talent Taskforce indicate that city design will increasingly emphasize greater green space, urban farming, sustainable mobility, inclusive amenities, pedestrianization, reduced carbon footprints, technology and data management. The smart and sustainable city that previously existed as a blurred and utopian idea has been given shape and definition by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are currently multiple initiatives that aim to concretely redesign the dynamics of urban sustainability, such as the RIBA Climate Challenge 2030 Plan, the Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, and the Golden Thread of Information.
In sum, from the scale of individual homes to office buildings and entire cities, the concepts of wellbeing, sustainability and new technologies are at the center of the future of the built environment.
To learn more about the International Talent Taskforce, read the article about it on ArchDaily.