Covid-19 has affected each of us in the way we live, from seeing family and friends to shopping and even exercising. Unfortunately, the virus has swept through Europe’s care homes with devastating effect, killing thousands of residents who have died in isolation. As architects, we are emerging from Covid-19 looking at how care homes can be improved in their design for the years to come.
Words that have become part of our daily lives these past few months include – ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘lockdown,’ these words have also led us to think about new spatial relationships, both physical and psychological. Covid-19 has changed the way humans interact with space and one another. In care homes, we have seen normal operations such as group activities and communal dining being cancelled, in favour of in-room entertainment and meals on delivery.
How can design mitigate its worst effects? How will we build back better?
The primary concerns revolve around the health of residents and how to create a clean and safe environment. Though this is (hopefully) temporary, architects will be looking to create more designs with open spaces that enable and encourage people to spread out. Care homes will benefit from greater exposure to sunlight and fresh air. We need to design to dilute and remove contaminated indoor air. We can design windows for cross ventilation (if appropriate, and if space allows), or use exhaust fans or mechanical systems to pull air outside. It is an important part of design to include air filtration, proper ventilation and airflow strategies. Moving forward, there may be changes in air quality codes for care homes.
A problem that we have seen is that staff have resorted to sleeping in tents outside care homes due to a lack of beds inside, going the extra mile to keep their residents safe. When designing spaces, it’s worth remembering this and allowing room for staff sleeping facilities.
Design for people, not just against pathogens.
It is equally important to remind ourselves; residents rely on socialisation as a way to keep themselves busy and happy. Designs should provide solutions to safely maximise interaction with other residents and the outside world even during a quarantine situation. Getting visits from loved ones at the care home may perhaps be done by designing two adjacent rooms separated by a glass partition and equipped with an intercom system or even mobile phones. The room would then be sanitised by staff after each use.
We want to make sure that we don’t just create sterile spaces that evoke fear but create dignified and human-centred spaces that evoke hope. For example, we can create a small terrace or Juliet balcony to have outdoor connectivity for one’s sanity and the health and wellness of the individual. Maybe residents can be divided in smaller, self-contained groups with a smaller dining space. This can be connected to larger communal spaces to help with infection control protocols.
From the floor layouts and the buildng strategies tp the choice of materials, every decision an architect makes could improve the future of safety in a care home and help support providers to minimise future disruptions.
If you would like help adapting or designing your care environment, please get in touch. We will be happy to help.