Words by Tom Smith
The sudden, all-encompassing Covid experience has foregrounded the myriad ways in which the physical environment influences the health and wellbeing of communities. It has provided sobering insights into the failings and fault lines in current design practice, but vindication for those who believe that we can and should do much better. We’ve also had an unexpected if much-needed lesson in what true resilience looks like as we anticipate a future where the only certainly is change.
Happily, there is much that good design can contribute, both in broad strokes and in the detail. This issue, we’ve explored the potential of urban planning to make cities more equitable and inclusive, and the psychological reassurance that design can offer as we tentatively return to crowded downtown spaces. And as many buildings face a change in function or obsolescence, we’ve looked at the technical limits of reuse and the recipe for ultimate flexibility. One conclusion is that this, like everything else, comes down to people: a building is only useful as long as we are willing to use it.
The pandemic has brought a profound challenge to our ever-growing and densifying cities, and it will certainly change them. We don’t yet know how — all we can do is focus on making places that can adapt and withstand, and on looking after each other. Above all, this experience has emphasized that every design decision should be centred around people, and that if a solution doesn’t work for the most vulnerable, it doesn’t work for anyone.
Tom Smith is global director, property and buildings, at WSP