The COVID Catalyst
Two renowned architects ponder how the pandemic is propelling us into the future.
In his words
COVID has forced our society to embrace the virtual world. Suddenly, it’s commonplace to work from home, telecommuting to meetings with office cohorts, while attending meetings anywhere on the globe. But we still crave face-to-face contact. We want to get together with our immediate office cohorts. We still want to get together to physically socialize with close friends. We’ve come to realize the importance of physical exercise.
So that human contact, it’s suddenly not there, or it’s all virtual, as we tend to take more care in our living environment. That’s where I come in as a heritage architect. I think that we probably will want more connection with who we are. The idea of restoring old buildings helps us maintain our emotional stability. There are a lot of emotional things that I think you can see come out of this virtual world.
We can look at the Industrial Revolution, where society made some great paradigm shifts. I think that we’re going to see the same sort of thing here. Will it be in how buildings are planned? Could be, but the 15-minute city is more of an idea about how things are laid out, people having their wants and needs within a short distance of where they live — no cars necessary.
I think this is one of those paradigm shifts in society. We keep changing the architectural map of how we buy and sell things. Over the years, you’ve seen general stores become department stores, department stores become shopping centres, which become big power centres. But now, with online shopping, you’ve got Amazon building a big warehouse just as the Hudson’s Bay Company is closing down [downtown].
The industrial economy brought social ills and pollution and all sorts of negative things with it. And I think what may have happened is just what I feared the service economy would become: a whole bunch of minimum-wage jobs and people selling things that used to be made here. But now there are the more festival markets around town — like the Bountiful [Farmers’] Market on the south side, and there’s even talk of shoehorning a market into the power plant down by the river. These are local people selling local goods, and that could easily be a new trend that we see in the local economy.
We’re beginning to see the potential of the global community, of being able to contact and interact with anyone, anywhere. This means that people will live in Edmonton because they want to. It’s suddenly much easier to work from home if one is a professional. Or, the infrastructure is in place to run a cottage industry from close to one’s home and still participate in a larger economy. This is the central concept of a 15-minute city.
For whatever we want to call the 21st century, we will live in places that we find attractive, places where we want to spend more time, places that satisfy that craving for a connection to our heritage yet let us anticipate the future. We will want places in our neighbourhoods where we can get together with cohorts for work, to socialize, to learn and to play. Our building types and layouts will change to reflect these needs and wants.