In a conversation with The Business Standard, the veteran architect talked about the impact of Covid-19 on architecture and urban design
Jalal Ahmed is the President of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh and the Vice-President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects of Asia. He also served as Honorary Secretary of Architects Regional Council Asia during 2009-10. He has his own architectural firm – J A Architects.
He designed many landmarks throughout his career. Besides, he is known for designing remarkable projects ranging from industrial buildings to large urban academic campuses to small rural training centers made of mud blocks, and from multifamily urban apartments to low-cost rural houses.
In an exclusive interview with The Business Standard, Jalal Ahmed shared his views on how Covid-19 may change architecture and urban design of Bangladesh.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge social and economic impact on our country. Now, concerns are simultaneously growing about the current or long-term effects this may have on the architectural sector. But, as it is an uncertain event, it needs more research to come up with any changes," he said.
Dhaka, the capital of our country is a densely populated city. The majority of our nation's population prefers living in cities rather than towns and countryside. Thus, this pandemic has taken the lives of many city-dwellers and made this density more deadly.
"Dhaka was not a sustainable city, even before the crisis. To reduce this density, we have to develop other cities as well. If we can ensure facilities like proper roads, transport, education, communication, and better livelihood in other cities, then people will not only be Dhaka-centric. Also, we have to think about how to decentralise Dhaka in a proper way," said Jalal.
Public places have always been used for social interactions, engagements, and sharing time with known and unknown people. But at present, the scenario has changed; our perception of comfortable social and personal distance has modified. Moreover, earlier, companies used to make open space offices to encourage interaction between employees.
Now, human interaction will create more fear than joy. According to Jalal, organisations can operate by asking workers to come in on staggered shifts. Or one group can work in the office and another group can work from home on alternative days, in order to maintain social-distancing protocols and reduce the number of staff in the office at a time.
However, some aspects of the offices can be reshaped, depending on how long the current pandemic lasts. Besides, he stated that construction sites should have a standard operating system, in order to minimise the risk of the labors.
Moreover, an infected person can spread the virus into the environment by coughing or just breathing. The virus may remain infectious in the air for hours. "Recently, many people are considering constructing space for isolation at home. That separate room should have an attached bathroom. Also, while designing, it should be ensured that the room is well ventilated and has an open window," he recommended.
People are getting interested in biophilic design - an architectural concept used to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions. This design is more popular in hospitals. It is known that hospital rooms with window-view of nature have quite a positive impact on individuals' wellbeing and mental health. It helps to reduce anxiety in people. Apart from that, indoor plants can also be a great option.
"We can incorporate greenery in hospital plans because it has positive influences even to the people who come with the patients," he said. Furthermore, during the '70s and '80s, people used to have big and spacious balconies in their houses. "Through the balcony, we can see nature, greenery, and rain. These can help to improve our health. At present, we are designing our balconies in a very congested way, but this situation has forced us to reconsider this matter," expressed Jalal.
When asked how this global crisis might affect curriculum content in universities and how we can educate our future architects, he replied, "Public health issues can be incorporated as a part of urban or house design. However, in my perception, incorporating courses based on this pandemic will be too much for the undergrad curriculum. Five years is not enough for architects to educate themselves. I am in my 60's and still, I am learning from my every day's experience."
He added, "The modern architecture emerged in the 20th century and it evolved slowly, not in one day. In the same way, this crisis will teach us in a new way. But this process will take time as it has only been a few months since we started dealing with this situation."
However, architecture and urban design and planning need to bring in other disciplines. According to him, there should be teamwork; people from other professions such as- technicians, vendors, manufacturers, health workers will come up with new ideas with time and architects can incorporate those ideas into their designs.
Besides, public and personal health issues and policies might become more of a design determinant in the future. He thinks, it will not happen overnight. It needs much research, and through the findings and collaborative effort, it will grow gradually.
Furthermore, he pointed out, "Bangladesh is a country of 17 crore people and around 14 lakh people are government jobholders. Among them, there are only 80-90 full-time architects. Thus, there should be more individuals from this sector at RAJUK and the Credit and Developnment Forum (CDF) to develop and plan the cities well." Despite this fact, he is hoping this situation will teach everyone to take proper steps in this regard.
Lastly, he suggested making construction sites more organised to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. And urges our readers to maintain proper safety protocol while stepping out of their houses.