The recent global crisis has thrown the role of our homes into sharp focus. With offices, schools, gyms, and even restaurants doubling up as living spaces, our houses have been put to the test. Regardless of their safety, size, or comfort, they have had to adapt to these new demands. But changing the model of our homes goes beyond mere aesthetics. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that our way of living inside our homes must evolve if we want to survive future inter-pandemic periods.
Looking back at history, pandemics have always been a part of the human experience. They are not exceptions, but rather the norm. So, adapting our homes to better cope with such crises should have been a process we considered long ago.
There must be a more pragmatic approach that is accessible to everyone, regardless of wealth, house size, or ownership status. This is particularly crucial as we face the likelihood of future waves of the virus.
Fortunately, our homes can become powerful weapons in the fight against contagion. At a time when vaccines are scarce and immunity after infection is still uncertain, our homes may be our most potent defense. In the future, the design and form of homes will be dictated by the need to prevent infection. Here are some suggestions for the changes that lie ahead:
Immune Booster Homes
Indoor air can be up to ten times more polluted than outdoor air due to the accumulation of toxins. Everything from paint and cleaning products to candles and adhesives can release harmful substances into our homes. In Europe alone, these toxins are responsible for approximately 99,000 deaths each year, according to the Royal College of Physicians. To combat this, VOC-free paints and formaldehyde-free building materials should become the norm, while MDF should be banned.
Implementing air and water filtration systems can be a high-tech solution, but even something as simple as having indoor plants can have a positive impact. Plants are excellent natural air purifiers, as demonstrated by NASA-commissioned research.
Design Based on Need, Not History
By 2050, it is estimated that 80% of the houses we will be living in have already been built. This means that designs should now be seen as suggestive rather than absolute. But it’s not just about moving walls or altering layouts. For example, why do bedrooms always have to be located upstairs in a standard house? A smaller, darker room on the ground floor may be more suitable for rest, while a room on the top floor should be designed to be larger and filled with natural light for the living area.
In Japan, house plans are rarely drawn with fixed furniture positions. The rooms are designed to be multifunctional, allowing for flexibility. Ample storage space enables a single room to transform from a dining area to a relaxation or sleeping space as needed.
The West has embraced open-plan living for its flexibility, but in the pursuit of interconnectedness, privacy and quiet corners have been sacrificed. While communication between homes is undoubtedly essential, it is equally important to recognize the significance of mental health. With everyone spending more time together at home, it is crucial to have spaces where individuals can retreat and find solace within their own homes.
Returning to Basics
The Genkan concept, a small interior patio where outdoor shoes are removed before entering, may soon become the Western norm. It promotes good indoor hygiene and prevents the spread of germs. However, it is essential to strike a balance between hygiene and personalization. Surrounding ourselves with meaningful objects, furniture, and materials can contribute to our overall well-being and happiness.
Embracing Complete and Interesting Decor
While touchless technologies, handleless doors, and knee-operated sinks have been developed to reduce contact, they may not have a place in our homes. More than ever, we crave the tactile experience of home as a sanctuary from the outside world. Common-sense measures like regular cleaning, good hygiene practices, and easy access to soap should suffice.
Living Rooms as Spaces for Rest and Active Play
Our homes should no longer be viewed solely as places where we prepare for the day and unwind at night. During the lockdowns, online courses, baking, games, and reading have gained popularity. These activities form part of an active rest routine, helping us combat stress, build resilience, and maintain good immune function.
With the reassessment of floor plans, it is important to refocus living rooms to support these healthy habits. They should provide ample space for both relaxation and physical activities. With just a smart TV and some open floor space, we can access countless online exercise classes and make our living rooms a hub for both relaxation and active pursuits.
The kitchen should be seen as the engine of the house, rather than just the heart. Its main purpose should be to store real food and prepare healthy meals, which are essential for good health and immune function. Kitchens should be free from school bags, toys, and distractions that compromise hygiene.
In addition, more space should be allocated for creating home offices with soundproof doors, acknowledging the growing need for remote work and privacy. The design industry should prioritize family-friendly standing desks, which promote movement, and comfortable chairs with lumbar support.
The revival of forgotten rooms such as libraries, storage areas, laundry rooms, and day rooms should also be considered. Even small homes should incorporate food storage cabinets to instill a sense of security with a fully stocked pantry. Utility areas can be reconfigured to accommodate larger freezers and food shelves, as well as laundry facilities.
A people-centered approach to home design involves integrating nature into our living spaces. The use of natural materials, or their realistic imitation through color, texture, and form, offers numerous health benefits. Every new home should include a certain degree of green space, and the balance between indoor and outdoor square footage should be reevaluated. Having access to even a small balcony can make a significant difference in the quality of life during a pandemic.
The focus should be on living rather than speculating on property. We should strive for small-scale collective living units that prioritize healthy living, community, sustainability, and intergenerational support. This approach can help us thrive and overcome future challenges, not just the current one posed by the coronavirus.
Now is the time to foster unity and flexibility within our communities. This concept goes beyond dormitories or condos. It involves creating shared spaces for couples, families, and individuals with flexible schedules to combat social distancing and loneliness. It also addresses the need to reevaluate our habit of isolating the elderly in nursing homes. The pandemic has revealed the shortcomings of this system, particularly in care settings.
In conclusion, as we develop our domestic landscapes to focus on healthy living, community, and sustainability, we will thrive and rise above the challenges posed by the pandemic. Our homes will become havens of safety and well-being, providing us with the resilience needed to face the future.