Making humans and buildings more resilient

While building resiliency is important, creating flexibility for how humans interact in a building also is important

By Amara Rozgus August 25, 2020

Architecture, engineering and construction are closely linked, so anything covering one of these topics typically catches my attention. A recent article, written by an architect, focused on how COVID-19 is affecting design in commercial buildings. In it, he looked at how open office floorplans may be a thing of the past, how condominium building managers will be carefully considering airflow needs and how schools might require design changes in the wake of the pandemic.

His most interesting point, however, wasn’t about how the buildings might change, but rather how the humans who interact within the buildings would change. Our perception of how to use or work within a commercial building must be different because we can’t easily change every single building in the U.S. in the next few months.

One of the best examples was traffic flow. Many buildings have changed entrance and egress tactics. By forcing people to go in or out specific doors, it forces traffic to flow in a particular pattern. This reminds me of the “up” and “down” stairs at my high school; if a student was caught going the wrong direction, it was immediate grounds for a detention.

This process of forcing humans to move differently through a building may be simpler, assuming everyone follows the guidance provided. It may lead to less cross-contamination by stopping people from directly crossing paths, and will also ease the challenge of keeping high-touch surfaces cleaner.

By looking at how we interact with building differently, this author proposed, our use of commercial buildings could transition us back into these buildings quickly and safely.

But what about ensuring that existing building can meet these needs? How do occupants feel safe in a facility without knowing all the technical details about its ventilation systems or building controls? What smart technologies can enhance the user experience, and help the owner better gauge the building’s use?

Taking a step back, looking at the overall resiliency of a building may be a good place to start. Health care buildings are the first building type that comes to mind when thinking of resilient buildings; these facilities must be built to withstand floods, man-made disasters and storm events. To many, this means hardening the electrical system or considering the many aspects of fire and life safety.

To others, it means ensuring all aspects of a building — from potable water to the ventilation system to the building automation system — can handle an attack of any kind. Whether it’s an earthquake, a pandemic or a cyberattack, building owners and the consultants who serve them must be ready for these external stresses and pressures. Consulting engineers need to educate themselves to help prepare clients for these challenges.

The architect who thought about changing the people within the building instead of the building itself is certainly on to something. How can we better prepare ourselves and, in turn, our buildings for possible problems, and how can we change our reaction to address them head-on?

Author Bio: Amara Rozgus is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader