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