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What will a pandemic summer bring for architecture?

Corona Column

What will a pandemic summer bring for architecture?

Summer in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, one of the neighborhoods Neighborhoods Now, a Van Alen Institute initiative, is working with to address the affects of the coronavirus pandemic. (Elyaqim Mosheh Adam/Via Flickr)

For the duration of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here.

On the eve of the official start of summer, the United States is still grappling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Gabrielle Golenda, The Architect’s Newspaper’s market editor, talked to Nicole Harris, president of the National Glass Association, to get a sense of how manufacturers are coping and what they think the coming months might hold. Their conversation looks at the challenges that the uncertain future presents for the AEC industry. In other articles, Matt Hickman, AN associate editor, aggregated news about interruptions to infrastructure projects, including many that were intended to address the adverse effects of climate change disproportionately affecting low-income and BIPOC communities.

Today being Juneteenth, it’s an appropriate day to remember that many predominantly Black neighborhoods have been hit hard by the pandemic, something that Neighborhoods Now, a Van Alen Institute initiative, is attempting to address. As Hickman covered in his article, the group is organizing architects to work with one of four hard-hit areas in New York City.

Other initiatives trying to respond to the pandemic include speculative designs for COVID-19 testing hubs and plans for a new architecture and design museum, part of Finland’s economic stimulus package

Architecture critic Kate Wagner wrote a rebuttal to fluffy “PR-chitecture” that has been put forward by architects as supposed responses to the pandemic and earlier crises. Wagner argued that glossy images of hypothetical (and often unrealizable) designs dilute the profession’s potential to actually change how the world works. The eye-grabbing designs, Wagner argued, distract audiences with superficial ideas that do little more than generate positive buzz for the designers publicizing them. It’s a great read.

Two feature stories from AN’s June/July print issue present more realistic ideas for the postpandemic future of design. Writer Gideon Fink Shapiro talked to several organizations, including MASS Design Group, Gehl, and LTL Architects, about what the future of urban living could (and perhaps should) look like, and Matt Hickman explored how a shift to remote working may affect the future of cities’ central business districts. In online-only articles, Gabrielle Golenda talked to manufacturers about the future of public bathrooms, and Hickman covered Project Héroe, an interdisciplinary initiative that is exploring ways to use design to fend off future pandemics.

Lastly, as summer officially begins, check out this list of outdoor art spaces open for socially distanced enjoyment that Hickman compiled. Let AN know what buildings and landscapes you’re enjoying by tagging the paper on Twitter or Instagram (@archpaper) in pics of your visits.

Until next time, be well!