In the age of the coronavirus lockdown, homes have become more than a sanctuary—they have evolved into “quarantine bubbles,” according to Dan Carlin, M.D., founder of telemedicine company WorldClinic and former senior medical adviser for MIT’s School of Architecture. When people are now spending the majority of their time at home, working and studying, Carlin says, architects now have a number of new modifications to consider. “Part of re-architecting [should focus on] food, water, energy, environment, and medical care,” Carlin says. “We do live in a connected age and there’s a ton of capability in that space.” AD looks into how architects must now engage with the home as a quarantine space.
Think of a residence in terms of quarantine zones. The red zone is the outside contagious world, the green is the virus-free living space inside. The yellow transition zone is the critical one. This space, according to Carlin, is where people coming indoors need to ensure that if they have come into contact with the coronavirus, they don’t contaminate the home. This is where a sink or hand-washing station comes into play. “Now they’ve come back home, in the transition zone, they’re going to leave their clothing, clean themselves up,” Carlin says.
Anterooms—or mudrooms that have been converted to include a sink—have become popular as a way of protecting the inner sanctum from possible contamination. “I need something that looks like a sink and a shower,” he says. “Because…I’m going into a hyper-clean area.” Installing a sink as well as a washer-dryer in this space is the best way to avoid contamination, according to Carlin. Removing outside clothes immediately and washing them, as well as hands, drastically reduces the chances of contaminating the green zone.
Anti-viral fabrics and surfaces
Specific virus-repelling materials are particularly useful in the kitchen, a space that Carlin considers the “number one area of transmission.” As people tend to gather and talk in kitchens, there’s a greater chance of virus shedding, so Carlin says architects should focus on replacing countertops that can harbor the coronavirus, especially those made of materials that are pitted or grooved.
“This is particularly true of wooden cutting boards,” Carlin says. “They’ve got all these little scratches and holes and dings and little spots where the virus can basically hide in there.” He says even wiping down these surfaces can miss the virus, so it’s important to clean them thoroughly. Carlin advises using hard and smooth surfaces such as metal, which should also be cleaned regularly to limit potential viral spread.
Andrew Franz, principal and the design director of Andrew Franz Architect, highlights that copper and alloys like brass and bronze are excellent materials to introduce into the home for fixtures that are frequently touched, such as doorknobs. This is because they are naturally antibacterial and antiviral. “COVID is not transmitted on brass,” Franz says. But it is more easily transmitted on other materials, like chrome and stainless steel. “There’s this kind of irony that hospitals were all about stainless finishes, and actually they’re not antibacterial, whereas copper alloys are,” he says.
Nancy Ruddy, founding principal at CetraRuddy, points to leveraging basic elements to transform homes to maintain emotional well-being, given that few people have the opportunity to change scenery as they shelter in place. To that end, Ruddy notes that ensuring good airflow and circulation in indoor spaces is important for dispersing potentially virus-dense air. Rather than focusing on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to do this, she advocates using natural airflows and breezes.
“It’s not healthy to be in a hermetically sealed box,” she says. “Having fresh air coming in and out is very, very important.” Ruddy suggests creating huge windows that are operable, and placing them strategically to create a natural cross-breeze.
Nature and wellness
Ruddy notes the importance of creating green spaces, noting that plants and trees are scientifically proven to make us feel less stressed. She says people are filling their homes much more with indoor plants. Furthermore, she notes that there’s a growing trend toward introducing a natural flow between the indoors and outdoors. These can be achieved, she says, by having huge floor-to-ceiling doors leading to the outside. “Home design creates drama, and we’re doing that with garage doors,” she says. “That was never used in our living rooms, but we’re seeing that kind of mechanism where the doors go up into the ceiling.”
There are also more intensive considerations to be made. Carlin’s advice points to the importance of ensuring physical as well as emotional health while in isolation. He advocates a high-tech telemedicine solution to avoid having to break physical distancing protocols by going to a crowded hospital or waiting room, even in a medical emergency.
“Think about including a standalone care space, a space that can be moderated to support the delivery of medical care remotely,” he says, explaining that this solution requires complementary hi-touch technological interfaces—which means a well-connected internet that can handle video conferencing and has a strong enough signal to not shut down during a remote diagnosis/emergency treatment, as well as a device besides the client’s main phone that can host an emergency treatment app, so that a physician can seamlessly and safely make diagnoses and prescribe treatment remotely. “We’ve done everything from these little prescription medical kits about the size of the old VCR tapes [which would include both over-the-counter pain relievers, simple wound-cleaning care, and prescription drugs and antibiotics] all the way out to an actual three-room facility where it’s really set up to be a full-service emergency room.”