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By: Hamilton McCulloh
When the COVID-19 pandemic ends and governments, businesses and individuals determine how best to move forward and reopen parts of our society, one thing is certain: our relationship with real estate, most notably interior environments, will be forever changed.
Homes, office space and retail stores will dramatically evolve over the next few years. In fact, they already have. Human beings adapt, after all, and brick and mortar structures – where we live, work, and shop – will also adapt to reflect our desire to be safe, productive and comfortable in our new shared reality.
Let’s start with the home, where many of us spend far more time than normal. Given the pandemic’s impact on our daily routines, people are now more likely to work, learn and exercise from home, leading to new interior design trends in the built environment.
Lee Crowder, design gallery and model home branding manager at Taylor Morrison, the nation’s fifth largest homebuilder, said in a recent blog post, “home features driven by the pandemic, such as touchless and automated appliances, easy-to-clean surfaces and healthy home technology are driving design.”
Here are some of her insights:
Let’s turn our attention to the office and its interiors, where many of us typically spend the most amount of our time outside of the home. Each office will open slowly over time, based on pre- and post-vaccine factors and local and state health regulations. Even in the long run, some workers may continue to work from home, at least part of the time. But what will the office look like when both essential and non-essential workers do return?
“Our built environment will be under scrutiny for how it impacts our health,” said Matthias Olt, design director of architecture at B+H Architects. “Real estate investors and developers will need to consider how buildings can be designed to promote human health, safety and comfort.”
He predicts architects and designers will focus, in part, on biophilic design, which promotes natural lighting, open windows, increased ventilation and interior landscaping to create healthier and more productive workplaces.
For now, offices will have few colleagues at any given time and will feature reconfigured workstations. Common areas like kitchens and conference rooms – not to mention the now-common phone booths – may be closed or dramatically re-designed to ensure separation and safety.
Colliers International Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation and Corporate Solutions in the Americas Keith Perske said the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the office space by five years or more.
Even if more employees plan to work from home some of the time, companies will likely use their current spaces more effectively to allow for social distancing, reversing the characteristics of the modern-day workspace. Organizations will assign shared workstations designed to create more space with higher walls or other barriers installed between cubicles.
The commercial office will evolve to be more dynamic and collaborative, while the home office likely will be more for focused, heads-down work. People have adapted to working apart, but the pandemic has helped us to better appreciate the value of working together.
Retailers will also be driven to innovate in the post-Covid-19 world. We have added many new terms to our vernacular in recent months and here’s one more: Buy Online Pickup in Store, or BOPIS.
Many retailers already offered such services as a convenience, or perhaps as a response to Amazon. That said, it will now be critical for retailers of all sizes to plan for BOPIS to remain open in the long run. Expect to see a reallocation of space with more available square footage for inventory, logistics and operations and less for the traditional front-of-the-house customer experience. This also includes considerations for drive-through lanes and dedicated parking stalls for curbside delivery. The ultimate challenge is to design an evolved retail experience that aligns with the store’s existing brand values.
Design is the intersection of art and science. As they say, form follows function. Science will dictate how we collectively and safely emerge from the pandemic with a new appreciation of our surroundings at home, at work and at the store. Designers and architects are already hard at work providing the artistic insight and expression that will lay the foundation for a strong future.
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Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group amplifies the brands of global developers, brokers, designers, and builders in the built environment through media relations, public affairs, and reputation management.