12 August 2020

Can architects prevent pandemics?


Pandemics have been the main topic of conversation these past months due to COVID-19. As some countries are beginning to get the situation under control, the question arises: What have we learned from COVID-19 and what could help us prevent future pandemics? These questions were discussed on 17 June 2020 during a webinar by the School of Architecture and the School of Global Health.

Left to right: Flemming Konradsen and Jakob Knudsen

Text: Jakob Leonhardt Overgaard / Photo: KADK

To some, it might be hard to imagine how architecture could assist in disease prevention. Why would the design of ones living room make a difference in times of an epidemic, for example? Or why should architects be central to the design of hospitals?

These were some of the questions discussed by the Dean of the School of Architecture, Jakob Brandtberg Knudsen, and the Director of the School of Global Health, Flemming Konradsen, during the webinar ‘Can Architects prevent pandemics?’ Scroll down to see the video recording of the webinar.

Architecture and disease prevention

Architecture has played a major role in disease prevention. For example, the most commonly used materials for bathrooms and kitchens are marble and stainless steel. It is not a coincidence that these materials are used in the areas of a house where bacteria are most common. These materials are used as hygienic measures, prioritised above other materials, as they are easy to clean effectively. The role of architects is, however, not only to identify and use the proper materials, but also to promote disease preventing design, and market it a way, that makes it attractive.

Denmark ranks top five in space per capita

In Denmark we are, from an architectural standpoint, privileged. Denmark is among the top five countries with the most physical space per capita, which gives us the opportunity to build roomy, well-ventilated, spaced-apart houses, made out of easy-to-clean materials. Due to the surplus of physical space, Danes do not typically house many generations of people in the same house. All of these factors might sound novel, but out of all the municipalities in Denmark, the ones that are the most effected by COVID-19, are the ones where many generations live together, where one has a job with no work-from-home option and small living spaces.

Urban planning vs. crowding

It is possible to aid disease-prevention through architecture, at least when designing homes, and living spaces. However, the importance of city planning has been highlighted by COVID-19, as ‘crowding’ has been identified as a problem with regards to the spread of disease. Although problems such as crowding could be solved architecturally, especially in Denmark due to the amount of physical space, it would work against other architectural goals.

If we wish for more sustainable cities, crowding is a part of that, but if we want our cities to be designed with disease prevention in mind, crowding must be avoided. This kind of prioritisation is unfortunate, but it is something that architects will have to discuss in the future, if architecture, is to have as meaningful role in disease prevention in the future.

See the entire webinar in the video below