The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on cleaning in many industries, not the least of which is architecture. While most successful design firms have long understood the need to take ease and efficiency of cleaning into account in new construction and renovation projects, this has not always been put into practice. The result has been such oversights as:
- Custodial closets without a source of running water or one so inconveniently located as to require water and other supplies to be carried long distances and even up and down flights of stairs
- Doors that require handles to be grabbed coming in or out, especially of restrooms
- Restroom fixtures installed so close to the wall as to defy proper cleaning
- Unnecessarily porous surfaces on counter and other horizontal surfaces that encourage pathogen accumulation
- Waste receptacles installed any and everywhere but near the restroom door
- Porous, difficult-to-maintain floor materials such as grout used in high-traffic areas
- Many (many) more.
Get Ready for Change
If not thanks to, at least due to, the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent focus on infection prevention, more architects are understanding the need to partner with our industry to help them recognize where design and infection prevention can meet to create a safer, healthier, indoor environment.
With this in mind, below are just a few of the trends experts predict we might see in the not-so-distant future as a result of the increased focus on personal and public health. To be of transformational value in the infection-prevention fight, these and similar changes must be made with our industry’s collective input. We also must be ready for what they may mean to our own businesses and the cleaning industry overall.
Open Says Me
Many office buildings that once favored the large, open-space concept for collaboration will be rethinking their layout. Separate offices and other forms of partitions will prevail while meeting rooms will be expanded to provide more personal space for those working on joint projects.
Serie on Steroids
Already a growing trend, nearly everything possible will be “smart,” automated most often by voice command—from restroom fixtures, light switches, and doors of all kinds to elevators, airline check-in, and every appliance and piece of equipment in between. Touchless equals fewer touch points to create fear of infection—and to clean.
Less is More
Another potentially germ-reducing trend is having fewer surfaces that can potentially become contaminated. This could lead to major changes in new construction as well as revamping of old to eliminate everything from front lobby reception desks and shelving to counters and tabletops. The surfaces that can’t be done away with will assuredly be constructed using easier-to-clean, nonporous materials.
All Washing Up
From office buildings to stadiums to concert halls, when and if they get back to “normal,” there are sure to be more places to wash hands with running water with sanitation stations set up in between. While once a bit of an afterthought, the strategic placement of restrooms will become a priority as will, finally, the location and proper stocking of the once lowly custodial closet.
Ventilation and other air movement systems are another function of facility maintenance that will be of increased interest to building occupants, who will want reassurance that potentially contaminated air can be removed from a room expediently and efficiently, using high filtration HEPA filters. This will become increasingly important with the use of new disinfecting technologies, such as electrostatic sprayers, where rooms must be allowed to “air out” following spraying before being occupied. Hand dryers will also be scrutinized for their filtration systems and ability to keep germs at bay.
The Big Picture
In many cases, rethinking a building’s layout will involve far more than a partition here and there. Consider, for example, hospitals whose current ER rooms include administration areas and waiting rooms—despite harboring some of the most potentially contagious patients. Or office building where the closest restroom—and first opportunity for visitors to thoroughly wash their hands—is “down the second hall to the left.” Airports gates could well have their rows of seating completely reconfigured, and supermarket aisles may be permanently widened and include far more convincing one-way precautions than arrows on the floor. Will bleachers continue to be made without something to separate each loyal fan?
No one knows what the post-pandemic future will mean when it comes to building design and layout, but one thing is clear. As an industry, we need to encourage those designing them to partner with us to assure cleaner, healthier facilities and allow us to remain ahead of the ever-changing infection-prevention curve. Ultimately, as pointed out by Michael Berry’s best seller, Protecting the Built Environment is up to us.