An open-plan office design that promotes social interaction and communication has been a popularly well-accepted trend for decades. What about now, especially since the world has been hit by Covid-19, the destructive virus that can be transmitted between people through airborne respiratory droplets?   

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Malaysian Institute of Architects president Datuk Ezumi Harzani Ismail believes the Covid-19 pandemic will surely make some difference in the future office design trend. However, the re-design and arrangement of the office space solely due to the pandemic is very insignificant at the moment.

“Frankly, you will not see it now. There has not been much change to office building and space designs within the last few months. We are not yet at a point where we are designing specifically for Covid-19. Now we are merely adjusting our way of life to contain the pandemic without making long-term design changes,” Ezumi tells

Evolution takes time

Take a look back at the history of architect design. Ezumi points out that the overall building design process is neither simple nor fast, and what causes a design to change has to occur multiple times over a considerable period before it can be termed as a new trend.

“For example, the design changes we see today, such as the move towards energy-efficient buildings, evolved due to decades of rising awareness and concern for climate change. Looking from that angle, the past few months of pandemic is merely a blip in modern timeline,” he points out.

He shares that the latest “healthy building” trend was mulled over way before the pandemic hit as the awareness of the “wellness of building” has arisen for a long time. The WELL Building Standard for example, is proof of the growing awareness on how buildings could affect the health and happiness of its occupants.

Incidentally, the healthy building idea has partly addressed safety and health concerns during the pandemic, such as promotion of better indoor air quality. 

“This pandemic is not the first that has occurred in modern times. And it will not be the last too. However, from experience, we do not see radical design changes happening to buildings after the Spanish Flu or more recently, after SARS. I do not think we will see vast changes in design specifically for Covid-19 either,” Ezumi opines.

The next design trend

Nonetheless, the pandemic has changed our perception of the workplace and upcoming building design plans will emphasise wellness and healthy elements.

“The future [design trends] will not only be environmentally friendly, but also people friendly. To this end, green buildings, energy-efficient buildings and buildings for wellness will be the popular choices for development. Due to the pandemic, a building with the wellness concept can add value to the property,” he shares. 

Meanwhile, he also believes that the office space will be designed with more flexibility to size up or down according to the need.

“For high-rise offices, the access to the building or office lobby will be more controlled with a smaller number of doorways for better security and access control during a pandemic. The design of the centralised air-conditioning system may need to be revisited for better control to curb airborne diseases should the situation arise,” Ezumi concludes.     

This story first appeared in the e-weekly on Jan 29, 2020. You can access back issues here.

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