For the last few weeks, as the current global crisis worsens, my work has felt massively insignificant – I am not a key worker and I don’t have the skills to turn my hand to making hand sanitiser, or to developing new ways of making protective visors, as some of my super-clever and resourceful colleagues in SPECIFIC are currently doing. They have mobilised speedily, without hesitation, to adapt techniques and equipment used in their normal research (on steel or other building materials) to the manufacture of products that are needed urgently by the NHS now. Led by our inspirational Professor Dave Worsley, the team have shown how passion, creativity and imagination can be put to use in times of crisis. I am humbled by the impressive way the team have pulled together in their efforts to adapt their research in this way.
While we all have more critical things to think about at the moment and find our thoughts diverted to considering how we can help stop the spread of this terrible virus, and how we can help and protect those more vulnerable than ourselves, when it is over and things slowly start to return to some form of normal, we will still need buildings and we will still need to design, construct and operate our buildings in a better way – in a way that reduces their impact on our planet.
For those of us lucky enough to be able to continue our work at home (just as effectively as if we were in the office) and as we start to realise the benefits this brings, even if it is just for one or two days each week, our impact on the planet could be significantly reduced. We will use less fuel for travelling to work; we will realise that we can start work earlier in the day, without the necessary and often slow commute; we will adopt more agile working patterns, using our breaks to potter in the garden or to fit some exercise in; we will free up more time to do the things we never normally have time for; air quality will improve; we might even save money, as we shop less and start growing more of our own fruit and vegetables. We will realise the importance of having good outdoor spaces to enjoy and how green infrastructure should form a vital part of any building development.
This period of staying home is also making us all slow down, take time to think about what is important to us, reflect, re-evaluate our priorities, catch up on reading, check up on friends, and to appreciate the amazing key workers who are continuing to keep the country running and fighting to keep people healthy, during these unprecedented difficult times – NHS workers, pharmacists, teachers, child minders, delivery drivers, shop assistants, engineers, etc.
The question is, will things ever go back to the way they were pre Covid-19? And do we want them to? Will this change us forever?
I have been researching behavioural change methods – behaviour in people generally being very difficult to change. Sometimes it takes a crisis to make us change, but the fear of change is often bigger than the change itself. While change can be daunting, it is surprising how quickly people adapt when forced to do so by external influences – the need to work from home is a classic example – people have embraced this and found ways to make it work for them, to fit it in around their families and normal routines.
For me, I have needed to change my research methods, to find a different way to engage with architectural designers. Before the virus hit the UK, I had carried out a few workshops and had reached 34% of my target sample. I had several more workshops lined up over the next few months, which can no longer take place. So, instead of travelling to individual architectural practices to deliver my workshops to small groups, face-to-face, I am now developing a webinar that will be held online. This gives me the opportunity to potentially reach more people and gain the feedback I need without leaving the house. More information on this and how you can join to follow soon.
The work we are doing to improve the built environment is still critical (if not an immediate priority right now) – we need to drastically reduce the amount of energy our buildings use and the emissions they produce if we are to avoid destroying our planet any further. My small contribution is to support a change to the way we design, construct and operate buildings and to enable others to lead the way in this. I am not a key worker, but I hope the work I am doing now will have at least some impact on our future.
You can read Dave Worsley’s Covid-19 statement here: https://www.specific.eu.com/covid-19-statement/