Building Design with a Virus in Mind

Health-focused design responses to a changing world

Author’s Corner

In her white paper, Marissa Jacobson, Client Operations Director discusses building design and adaptability during COVID-19. She covers how interior layout and architectural features can promote clean air quality, social distancing, and the elimination of germs.

Please click on the video to the right to learn more about Marissa, the key takeaways of her white paper, and the impact of the pandemic on the future of building design.

To discuss her white paper, please contact Marissa using her information provided at the bottom of the page.

Looking back at history and taking into consideration all other unexpected outbreaks and pandemics, we begin to realize the impact on our lives, economy, and the population as a whole. The cholera effects over 150 years ago and influenza plague in the 1920s are just a few of the health disasters our world has experienced. You can see the physical effects of these health disasters by the changes in our built environment during their respective periods.

Depending on how a virus is spread and its context and severity, it can evolve into a pandemic rather quickly. With each of these epidemics, there has been analysis that shows potential causes of a widespread nature of the viruses and steps taken to avoid it. With each virus comes new challenges and changes in design and technology, thus making it important to reevaluate and evolve each time according to the specifications of the virus.

Mitigation Solutions

In a world with constant changes, the ever-so-unexpected pandemics supports the importance of keeping everyone healthy in all environments. It is essential to ensure that all design elements are focused on not just function, structure, and aesthetics but also health. The design of our spaces has the power to hurt us or to keep us safe. Some environments have the ability to become the breeding ground for new viruses to develop. Within the most recent pandemic, there has been many sources with information on what to do in our lives to prevent the spread of the virus. These can include anything from the newly coined “social distancing, ”wearing a mask, washing hands often, and avoiding touching your face. While those are all highly important, it is also crucial for the built environment to discuss the impacts of building design, function of air quality, and how this can affect our health.

Mitigation Solutions

With these lifestyle changes being made, along with the world evolving, it’s time to utilize the various domains of engineering expertise to connect design and health to show the importance of health considerations within planning and building design specifications. There are 5 key steps to mitigation of the virus: to remove, neutralize, dilute, divert, and defend from it. Throughout this paper we will discuss key design areas that have a significant impact in architectural design and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Building design can decrease the risk of infection to a building's inhabitants. It is important that the design, systems and technologies being used are in a conscious effort to ensure health and safety.

Air Quality

As we all now know, particles from an infected person can be transferred to others through poor airflow filtration within a building. Unfortunately, we take air for granted because we can’t see it and it’s not tangible, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have detrimental effects on us. We typically know not to drink water based on the look or smell but its not as easy with air as it can be harmful even if it seems all is well.

Viruses and bacteria can make us sick and cause health issues in certain conditions. When thinking about air quality in the design of buildings, ventilation, filtration and temperature are very important factors to consider.

Air Quality

During the summer heat and cold winters we spend a lot of time in our homes and offices breathing in circulated air. Designing a proper air/heat system can significantly reduce indoor air pollutants. Ensuring that we bring in more filtered air using HEPA regulated quality filters that help trap virus particles prevents them from entering our homes and offices.

These filters provide for cleaner air that helps decrease the potential for disease transmission or contamination from outdoors and from circulated air. Ensuring that designs are done with proper ventilation in mind while creating good airflow to reduce and extract airborne particles that may cause infection makes it less likely to become infected or spread any virus. As mentioned above, temperature can play a role in the transmission of viruses as it has been shown that warmer temperatures can decrease the lifespan of most viruses.

UV-C Defense

There are a few other aspects within the design realm to consider when designing to mitigate the virus and keeping our health in mind. UVC lights have been proven to kill germs within the air and have been used in hospitals for several years in highly sterile rooms to keep environments sanitary.

Designing a more cost-effective home solution to provide similar results for the rest of society is the future of design. In addition to the points above regarding air quality, this would help to ensure that the highest areas of use for us and our families have clean airflow throughout.

Design through Technology & Systems

Design through Technology & Systems

Utilizing more automated technology and voice activated controls to limit human to human and human to surface skin contact in public places is another design element to consider. These technologies would be most useful in the design of doors, windows, elevators, bathrooms, and faucets. This interaction with technology within the built environment helps in moving our generation to contact-free touchpoints which limits the chance of exposure to germs and bacteria. Using these advanced technologies can even go a step further as they create building sustainability and energy efficiency. Incorporating these systems as well as Integrated sensor technology in the form of Infrared Fever Screening Systems (IFSS) in more public spaces will be more prominent in building design and maintenance of our future.

Increasing spaces throughout building and sidewalks, redesigned habitable space layouts, and quarantine rooms and spaces will also be more prevalent in the design of public and office space design moving forward.

Implementing and maintaining these principles and systems proves very effective in decreasing the risk of contracting or spreading any virus that may plague our society now or in the future. Architectural and engineering designs have to evolve with a more health-centered focus and aim to mitigate viruses and avoiding the creation and spread of new ones. With healthcare and engineering at the forefront of our company, we continue to stay abreast of current and future developments in technology and designs while brainstorming new innovative ideas with our AEC clients. Leveraging healthcare focused design technologies brings added value to our clients and help make lives better.

David Haynes

Meet the Author

Marissa Jacobson - Client Operations Director/BIM Management

Marissa Jacobson serves as the Engineering Client Operations Director and BIM Manager at Vee Technologies. She has over 10 years of experience in architecture and engineering with extensive commercial, residential, and institutional project portfolios with an emphasis on design and management. Marissa fosters an environment of teamwork and ensures that strategy is clearly defined while overseeing design, quality, and technical performance. Her strong communication and client relationships skills enhance Vee Technologies process-driven management style.

Building Design with a virus in mind - Health-focused design responses to a changing world