RAMBASSUN (SANDEEP) SEWPAL
CHARTERED ARCHITECT, PRINCIPAL
AT SANDEEP SEWPAL ARCHITEC

‘’We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.’’ – Winston Churchill

The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is presenting countless challenges in the
construction industry and pushing architects to rethink the space planning of homes to
make them more adaptable to infectious disease outbreaks. At a time, when the
government recommends self-isolation to someone who has symptoms of coronavirus
(Covid-19), reviewing the internal spaces of a home has become important to deal with
in order to comply with health recommendations and directives. People around the world
are gradually accepting the realities of self-isolation. This is probably one of the most
difficult times of the early 21st century, but we remain optimistic as humanity is fighting
back. And in order to allow us win this fight, our lives, our habits and our values are
bound to change and under these influences, our homes will inevitably change.
Following reports and guidelines from doctors on coronavirus, architects are rethinking
and predicting the possible changes that could take place in the space planning and
construction of houses henceforth.

Building individual houses instead of apartments

From the 1950s onwards, politicians, planners and architects in the UK opted for what
would seem as a modernist and futurist view at the time to build high rise buildings in
order to solve the housing crisis and move away from suburban housing sprawl.
Mauritius adopted similar strategies for its social housing programme. At this time of
public health emergency, living in apartments could cause much inconvenience during
an attempt to reduce contact with objects and surfaces such as common door handles, handrails, lift buttons, lifts, common halls and above all neighbours. Living in apartments
without balconies or terraces during forced self-isolation could put their occupiers in
precarious situations, especially those living in flats that are overcrowded. This is why
having a house with a private garden in the suburbs or villages to feel less confined
during confinement period and protected from viruses could become the new trend. The
coronavirus disruption could potentially change the pace of urbanization in the world as
more and more people would now move to small villages and city suburbs. Now, people
would want their houses to be designed to provide social isolation as well.

Still from Only Fools and Horses, “The Russians are Coming”

Traditional/closed floor plan instead of open floor plan

During the cold war, many European countries and the USA built bunkers or fallout
shelter to protect its occupants from radioactive debris resulting from a nuclear
explosion. I remember an episode of the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses, "The
Russians are Coming", where Del Boy bought a lead fallout shelter which he built on top of his apartment block in fear of an impending nuclear war. Looking at the current
situation of COVID-19 outbreak, it is no surprise that more and more people would want
to prepare their home to protect them from a natural or man-made disaster. Instead of
building a fallout shelter like Del Boy, the traditional or closed floor plan may become
more popular opposed to open floor plan spaces. The need for a pantry between the
house and the garage to store water and food could become design standards for new
homes. Furthermore, in order to prevent an individual from carrying dirt from outside, an
enclosed entrance area will be required to separate the living spaces in order to leave
the shoes, clothing and belongings so that living areas are not contaminated.

Home as new office

During the lockdown period, many office workers are forced to work from home. Some
people are waiting eagerly for the end of the lockdown to meet their colleagues at the
office again while some people would prefer this arrangement of working from home to
continue. A desk, a comfortable armchair and computer that have been temporarily
placed to work during the confinement period could take a permanent place in a house
for some. Therefore, the spatial layout of a residence could potentially change with the
addition of a separate room with office furniture and large windows with blackout
curtains to accommodate a workplace at home. To win back their employees, some companies would be under pressure to improve their working environments while some
companies could encourage their employees to continue to work from home and save
money on office spaces. But these scenarios would obviously depend on the strategies
of these companies to improve productivity.

Urban Farming

Due to Covid-19 lockdown, the price of vegetables has gone up by 200% in local retail

Still from The good life

markets. And due to panic buying, food prices are set to rise. Having a small garden at
the front or back of the house has been a common practice in the rural areas of
Mauritius for years. But now, this trend could turn into a boom in our urban areas. The
confinement period has been the best time for many to rediscover the pleasure of
gardening and grow their own fruits and vegetables. Due to globalization, supermarkets
and local markets have been able to improve the standards of food quality and sell at
competitive prices thus attracting more and more customers in recent years. But in the
after Covid-19 outbreak, many people living in towns could possibly turn their front and
back gardens in allotments to grow fruits and vegetables in order to lead a sustainable
and self-sufficient lifestyle, which reminds me of the British sitcom, The Good Life.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, the world would probably reject mass industry in order
to continue breathing the fresh air that is still left in the atmosphere. Mass production
has undoubtedly brought cheap food but at the same time, brought pollution and
disease, killing thousands of people. While the most powerful nations of the world have
united to share their expertise, resources and technologies to put an end to this
pandemic and prepare a world recovery program, the Mauritian government should
promote further its clean energy programs to help more and more households to install
solar and photovoltaic panels to produce their own electricity and hot water. At this
crucial time in our history, the importance of the concepts of sustainability and self-
sufficiency has become more meaningful than ever where Mauritians are now dreaming
of a sustainable and 100% self-sufficient island.