How to Retrofit Your Building for a Post-pandemic World

post-pandemic office space

As the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed and we enter a post-pandemic 21st century, we can expect to see building occupants in renovated and newly constructed facilities increasingly demanding safe and healthy environments. To bring people back to shared, collaborative spaces to work and learn together, building owners need to update their facilities to meet these expectations.

Addressing Issues with Existing Infrastructure

Facilities built prior to the past decade were not designed to mitigate the spread of pandemics, plain and simple. This dated infrastructure needs to be reconsidered and changed accordingly to address issues specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as any future health concerns that may arise.

In early 2020, a media company in San Francisco was planning to transform a floor of an existing office building into a new state-of-the-art broadcasting facility. As the pandemic grew more severe, the design team was able to integrate the necessary upgrades for the facility to function safely and efficiently.

A commonality among existing buildings is that their floor plans were not designed for social distancing—quite the opposite. For the past two decades, work and learning environments have been designed to maximize occupant headcounts due to rising real estate costs. However, with social distancing now a part of everyday life, designers should plan on spacing out employee workplaces in offices, reducing classroom capacity in schools, spreading out tables in restaurants and following other guidelines as needed.

Beyond the floor plan and “bones” of the physical space, interior environments need to be retrofitted with upgraded finishes and systems that help reduce the spread of disease. HVAC systems should be upgraded with filters rated to remove contagious particles and can also be programmed to increase fresh air exchange rates, thereby reducing the risk of particles lingering around longer than they would otherwise. Some systems even contain ionizers that neutralize infectious particles as air passes through the system.

The finishes and furniture in spaces, particularly office, educational or hospitality environments, should be chosen based on how easily they can be cleaned and sanitized. Non-porous materials will win out over traditional woods and textiles here, though there are still many options available that can achieve a similar aesthetic.

Mini-Case Study: Broadcast Facility

Flexible environments, including an open office and a collaborative cafe, allow employees to evenly spread out across the facility’s square footage for more effective social distancing.

In early 2020, a media company in San Francisco was planning to transform a floor of an existing office building into a new state-of-the-art broadcasting facility that incorporated modern technology trends and could provide flexibility to employees desiring to work remotely. The company brought in V Three Studios to design the space and integrate the necessary equipment, systems and technology. As the year went on and the pandemic grew more severe, the design team was able to integrate the necessary upgrades for the facility to function safely and efficiently.

Flexible environments, including an open office and a collaborative cafe, allow employees to evenly spread out across the facility’s square footage for more effective social distancing. The collaborative cafe also supports multiple functions, including individual work, meetings, social events, and more.

Mechanical systems were upgraded for better air quality compared to what was originally planned, and the electrical and plumbing systems were upgraded for touchless use. When all was said and done, the facility came across the finish line as a cutting-edge broadcast station designed not only for the future of digital media, but for the future of employee health and wellness.

Looking Forward: Post-Pandemic Reality

As buildings are updated going forward, it is important to consider how they will be used in the wake of a global pandemic. For offices, work-from-home and virtual meeting solutions will continue to be the norm, similarly to virtual learning for schools and universities. Restaurants, bars, and other hospitality environments will need to include infrastructure for supporting increased curbside to-go service, online ordering and e-commerce.

The new post-pandemic reality is that almost any space will need the planned flexibility to adapt to unforeseeable conditions. While this comes with its risks and challenges, it is an exciting time to reimagine how our homes, offices, schools, restaurants, and other public spaces will look and function for decades to come.

PHOTOS: V Three Studios

About the Author

Kurt Kerns
Kurt Kerns is principal and founder of St. Louis-based V Three Studios LLC. As a registered architect in more than a dozen states, Kerns has worked on projects across the country for clients, including Boeing, CBS and Learfield.

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