With university campus closures in effect this summer, architecture and design students at the University of Toronto were confronted by how moving around in urban spaces — including their own faculty building — was affected by safety protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Associate professor Jeannie Kim and assistant professor Mauricio Quirós Pacheco, at the university’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, hired summer students to explore design solutions to issues exposed by the pandemic. This included looking at whether creating a social-distanced homeless encampment near Toronto City Hall was possible as shelters cut capacity. Another project probed the correlation between infection-prone neighbourhoods and industrial-zoned land.

There have been discussions within the discipline about how the pandemic could change urbanism by enticing city dwellers to retreat into the suburbs. But Prof. Kim does not believe this will happen. Instead, she counts on architects and designers to adapt their thinking about ways to “live differently” in dense areas.

That includes carefully considering “those spaces that we take for granted — doorways, hallways, stairwells — that architects often only design to the bare minimum of the code because they're forgotten spaces,” Prof. Kim said.

One project, by incoming fourth-year architectural studies student Jay Potts, investigated how long-term care home design could play into disease transmission. He mapped it out on the floor plans of The Briton House, in midtown Toronto, and One Kenton Place, in the city's North York neighbourhood.

Most Ontario long-term care homes follow what is called the “old model,” which sees 20 to 30 residents in tight common spaces, not including the building’s dining hall and outdoor gathering areas. Less than one per cent of homes are categorized as “small house design,” Potts said in an email, which has about half as many residents sharing a smaller floor and family-style living space. This model is more costly but better facilitates social distancing.

“The benefits of the ‘small house design’ have already been proven in non-pandemic scenarios, and I think it would be valuable to consult these standards prior to releasing Ontario's next Long-Term Care Home Design Manual,” Potts said in an email.

Another student in Potts' year, architectural design major Emma Robinson, kept her project close to home by testing the Daniels Building’s floor plans against social distancing, ventilation and traffic flow guidelines. She created an animated visual that demonstrates how “pinch points,” such as the washroom and elevator waiting areas, are difficult to bypass without breaking recommended safety rules.

“You weave, you cut corners, you move naturally through a space. But with the COVID requirements, it changes that” to becoming more timed and mechanical, rather than an organic type of movement, Robinson said.

Some students are keen to continue their work, Prof. Pacheco said, and investigate what he called a compelling initial finding of how urban design has played into inequity in the context of a pandemic.

Architecture and design students at the University of Toronto are taking on the challenge of figuring out how moving around in urban spaces has been affected by safety protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The neighbourhoods that have higher infection rates are those that are home to industrial employees.

“And it's only ironic that they are determined to [be] the essential workers,” he said.

Vjosa Isai / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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Are they confusing "retirement living" with "long-term care"? Most long-term-care residents I've known were pretty much confined to bed???
Maybe they could address how to transition between independent living "forever homes" for retirement living, and a kind of aging in place there ... as opposed to adapting the social paradigm that exists, of basically warehousing people and making everyone reduce their expectations to the lowest common denominator.
I'll never forget my then blind grandmother, who was allowed only 2 guests at a time in her room, by turns shouting to be heard over the several TVs set loud for the hard-of-hearing, and holding her ears for relief from the din, or an old family friend who needed to buzz for help to get to the toilet, wondering why he could have a kitchen, but not a room big enough for his guests to sit anywhere but perched awkwardly at the edge of his bed.
Design for respectful accommodation of people needing some level of care, amounting to decent living conditions, has to be more than measuring the width of hallways and minimizing the amount of non-revenue-producing space.
Surely we can do better than drugging seniors into mental and communicative oblivion, which seems to be the general status quo.
Yeah, old folks'll eventually holler and cuss at being stuck alone in a hospital bed in an ugly room with an institutional bed -- and no wonder. That's the problem to start with. Traffic flow doesn't do it.
As a person with severe Environmental Injury / Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, I'm used to avoiding people, even walking down the sidewalk, to avoid carrying their cologne and tobacco smoke home on my clothes. Part of avoiding means holding my breath whenever people exercising their "rights" to pollute the air use the sidewalks. Most new construction is untenable for people with EI/MCS, because of the building and decorating materials used. It takes years for them to offgas enough to tolerate even for short time periods. CMHC has done some work on that, and it'd be wonderful if Architecture and Design schools would expose their students to that sort of thing, along with information about the effects of various kinds of lighting on health, mood and cognition.