Rethinking buildings to be more respectful of their environments to combat pandemics: interview with Stefan Antoni, SAOTA director

interview with Stefan Antoni

How are you and your firm changing in the era of COVID-19?
“Being a type of service and company that can work remotely, we are in a far better position to be able to weather WFH (working from home) situations. We were able to transition almost immediately from the office to this. This flexible model will no doubt remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. We do value the physical interaction and energy that an office situation promotes, so we don’t have any current plans to make this a long-term alternative, however, we remain open to considering it where this could be beneficial to staff and the office. The obvious impact is that we’re using technology to work remotely. The real transformation is that COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the technology that our office utilizes and it is unlikely that we’ll stop using these tools once the crisis is over.”

Do you think this pandemic could change our lifestyle, our social relationships, and then our private and working spaces, in the future?
“Yes, our world feels more fragile as a result of this and we won’t lose this sense quickly. People will be more careful in their decision making in the future, more careful with resources and with each other. The pandemic will reinforce the idea of remote working and will have an impact on physical offices, which possibly could be diminished. Future workplaces will incorporate a large element of mobility with people working from home, on the road and from the office in a much more seamless way. The demand for office space will reduce. The demand for project planning and management tools will increase. Governments will need to be better informed and prepared in the future. Living standards and health spending in countries such as South Africa need to be vastly improved. Better records and monitoring of individuals and hotspots will need to be implemented. Many will see the pandemic as an infringement of their rights – this will be one of the big debates in the next few years.“

Do you think that due to this pandemic even mobility and urban planning, in general, could change?
“We have seen the role that mobility has played in the transmission of the virus, so changes do need to be made. As an example, we’ll probably see more health checks integrated into transport systems. There is an increasing realisation that society is too unbalanced and that this is a fundamental risk. Public health can only be protected in cities where resources are more evenly distributed, urban planning will need to respond to these challenges. We’ll need to asses other countries’ models and unpack how to provide protection to communities without infringing their rights.”

Viruses can spread faster and faster in these times of climate change. Do you think architects can contribute to avoid or slow this spreading if they manage to improve ventilation, solar light emission, and the finishing materials in the offices?
“Architects can certainly contribute to the design of quality spaces which does have an impact on health. Governments and developers need to be part of this as they commission most public housing. Overall, buildings need to be more respectful of their environments. Well-designed buildings could rely less on mechanical ventilation/air conditioning thereby reducing the need for additional power and resultant carbon emission. We need to use more green power, use fewer resources and more local, sustainable and renewable materials.”

Do you have any ideas, plans or suggestions to reach this goal?
“Architecture could easily be a tool to create better cities. Well-designed affordable housing would make a huge impact. Professionals and clients need to be more educated on alternative solutions and Governments would also need to buy into this way of thinking with the necessary legislation put in place.” Stefan Antoni, SAOTA director.

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