FIRE Magazine | No. 23 (2020)
Thursday 18 June 2020 | 10:45
The pioneers of the Bauhaus were led by the Spanish flu – but what visions follow Covid-19? Designers and urban planners are rethinking architecture and life: are they designing a healthier world?
Sparkling light falls through the study windows into the spacious classroom. With a fluid movement of the glass facade, the boundaries between inside and outside, between building and garden, dissolve. The children run out and carry out the bright tables and chairs. The lesson takes place today on the green terrace, under the California sun.
Light. Air. Sunshine. Architect Richard Neutra relied on this and, with the help of a steel frame and glass surfaces, formed a room that appears to expand. A one-story building with no cramped corridors, featuring a spacious floor plan, high ceilings, fresh air ventilation and an adjacent patio. Neutra managed to create the perfect school building for the present – and the one in 1935.
The school in Los Angeles County is casually called Corona Avenue Elementary School. Just a few weeks ago, the Latin word for “crown” changed into a code for a devastating virus. The fact that Neutra, born in Austria, got into a domestic fight against pathogens is due to his own history of suffering. The WWII soldier (born 1892) survived infections from malaria and tuberculosis, but his father died of Spanish flu.
A new world
Let’s create a new world. When today we admire Richard Neutra’s transparent and light buildings, we delight in the sobriety of a tubular steel armchair by Marcel Breuer or we enjoy the atmosphere of the center of Paris renovated by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, we recognize another value that has almost been forgotten: With their urban, architectural and design works, the aforementioned masters have not only set standards in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of hygiene.
With their innovative development plans, equally functional sewage systems and reductionist projects, the planners, together with the pioneers of modernism, fought the scourges of their time: pathogenic microorganisms. Now a new type of virus is threatening our health and attacking our beloved lifestyle. Architects, contractors, interior designers and furniture designers are left in shock when projects are abruptly halted or canceled.
The era of cities may be over
But not everyone falls into agony. Some designers are pushing forward and developing bold ideas for the future of living. Innovators our attention is coming to with exciting projects, such as the Epidemic Babel modular hospital that takes five days to build, a table lamp that uses UV light to disinfect objects, or a labyrinthine city park that can be walked through. its structure alone ensures that the rules of social distancing are respected.
Not only the way we live is questioned, but also the place where we do it. Not long ago, no one would have questioned the United Nations’ prediction that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population would be concentrated in large cities. Just over half of humanity currently lives in urban areas.
However, it is now considered certain that dense growth favors the spread of infection. For the sociologist Richard Sennett, the pandemic therefore places urban planners with the task of rethinking the architecture of metropolitan areas. Is the global trend reversing towards urban life? Are big cities transforming from promising places to vibrant and exciting life with bars and cultural institutions in giant petri dishes in our perception, teeming only with dangerous germs? Is the dream of city life turning into a nightmare?
“Big cities are the new hotbeds”
The era of megacities could end. “Big cities are the new hotspots,” said Camilla Cavendish, a Harvard lecturer and former director of politics for former British Prime Minister David Cameron. She explains that every third death by Spanish crown occurred in Madrid and every fourth death in the United States in New York.
According to Cavendish, for years some metropolises such as Paris, Beijing and Shanghai have been constantly losing population, also due to the overheating of real estate markets. It is entirely possible that, given the closed population centers, some people prefer to live in “a country house rather than in a shoe box”.
Commuting to the city every two weeks
His name is Simon Saint, CEO of Woods Bagot’s London office, one of the ten largest architectural firms in the world. Saint seems to live in the countryside on an experimental basis, he “fled”, as he puts it, at the end of March to his idyllic holiday home in Scotland. Saint’s employer employs 850 people in 16 cities around the world, projects include the Telkom Landmark Tower in Jakarta and China’s Chongqing Poly Tower.
So what scenarios are the creators of modern urbanization discussing right now? “We agree on one point,” says Saint, “the pandemic is changing the way we live, work and travel from scratch.” A triumph of the home office and the decline of the representative office building are quite realistic. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently released a similar statement.
Saint and a host of planners mentally envision a future where companies will drastically reduce their office space, if only for cost reasons. Well-trained employees, in particular, can therefore travel to their workplace in the city for five or six hours, but only every 14 days.
The “city of 20 minutes”
At the same time, a number of planners and sociologists are discussing other models that could be implemented at the same time. The idea of the “city of 20 minutes” is attracting a lot of attention. In the future, urbanites should be able to reach restaurants, doctors and shops on foot or by bicycle within this time frame. The Belgian capital Brussels is at the forefront, declaring that the city center is a 30 km / h zone and setting up generous cycle paths. Pop-up cycle paths are also being created in Germany, for example in Munich.
Architect Saint is also working on specific projects, one of which he calls AD-APT. Behind this there is a modular life concept for co-working-co-living. Depending on the time of day and needs, AD-APT adapts to the wishes of the residents. As with a theater stage, walls and furniture can be moved via rails.
“My home is my castle,” say the British. Will we be holing up in castle-like mansions in the future? The invisible enemy makes us aware of our vulnerability, to which we react with archaic behaviors such as grabbing food. In the future, a property’s value may not only be measured by its location, but also by how safe we feel inside it. It is possible that huge water tanks, additional cooling systems, contactless electronics, vegetable gardens and raised flower beds on the balcony will soon be part of the standard equipment of any building.
Quality of life in rural areas including in cities
“Nice”, thinks Chris Precht, one of the young guns on the architectural scene who realizes green projects. The 36-year-old hopes the construction sector will use the crisis to reduce its ecological footprint. He wants to bring the quality of life in rural areas to cities. This is to be achieved with the “Farmhaus” concept, a hybrid between an ecological condominium and an indoor farm.
Precht, who has returned to his homeland of Salzburg after a six-year stay in Beijing, describes the “farmhouse” as a kind of closed loop in which resources such as water, waste heat or domestic compost are used to grow. large flower beds are used and for fish farming in aquaculture. Being independent of supply chains and caring for plants and fish together promotes solidarity and reduces stress.
Is the consumption quarantine coming?
Is the era of sustainability dawning, as trend researcher Li Edelkoort just proclaimed? Will we all soon do the same, withdraw from the hustle and bustle and go into a “consumer quarantine”?
Alfredo Häberli can certainly get something out of the idea of deceleration. He reports on the phone
from a purchase from a farm in the Zurich area. The stellar designer would also like to see ecological living as a mainstream trend. How chic can be seen in his studio home for eco-friendly prefab manufacturer Baufritz. As much as Häberli hopes a sustainable lifestyle will prevail, he doesn’t believe it: “It will probably remain a niche market for the well-heeled for the foreseeable future, if only because of the price.”
Off to the spectacular smart city
A few days ago, the subsidiary of Alphabet Sidewalk Labs announced the end of the spectacular smart city. A futuristic neighborhood was to be built in Toronto for 1.2 billion euros, with the latest digital technologies, autonomous vehicles and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Sidewalk Labs justified the decision with the dire economic situation. Skeptics see this as an excuse. Rather, they notice a shift in attitude in Western nations, triggered by discussions about app tracking and the risks of surveillance capitalism.
Exchanging sovereignty over one’s data for a place in the smart city is increasingly considered unacceptable. Apparently, Sars-Cov-2 is also accelerating the rate of reproduction of public opinion. The future city of Toronto is now a thing of the past.
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