Responsive vs. Reactive—Building for Resilience in a Post-COVID World

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Throughout the course of human history, nearly every dramatic global event—wars, pandemics, political revolutions or climate change—has precipitated a change in the ecology and design of our built environment. 

Some of these changes have been lasting and beneficial: the transformation of European capitals like London and Paris due, in part, to the cholera epidemic; 19th-century New York’s reaction to the tenement housing crisis; the rebuilding of Berlin after the war. 

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clutch team has been reviewing the conversations about how our built environment will change and adapt.


  • Should we eliminate open-plan offices?
  • Will we see the end of large office towers and concentrated business centers? 
  • Will everyone actually work from home five days a week?
  • Will expanding elevators and hallways be necessary? 
  • Do companies need to replace existing fixtures with antibacterial surfaces
  • Should we shift retail environments to be entirely contact-free and online?


The answers are more elusive than speculation can provide right now. 

Instead of jumping to conclusions with immediate recommendations, our team has chosen to uncover what questions we need to be exploring vs. trying to find the answers too quickly. 

What we do know—as architects and designers, our challenge is to respond to the needs of today while anticipating the needs of tomorrow. 

With acute threats like overpopulation, pandemics and climate change forecasted ahead; our role becomes that of mediator. 

Rather than adopting a reactive approach where design solutions are simply tailored to the needs of the current crisis, the design community needs to step back, take stock and channel the lessons from the last month, year, decade and century to create integrated solutions that are positioned for resilience. 

The pandemic isn’t over. Most lessons will take time to unravel. Instead of claiming that we know the answers, we’d like to pose a series of ideas that the architecture and design field should consider, ideate and debate. 

Collectively if we ask the right questions, share information and create dialogue and dissertation, we can establish best practices that benefit the global community, ultimately creating safer spaces, more integrated communities and inspiring environments for humanity to live, work and play.


Read on to see what we’ve learned, how we’re adapting and what’s next.


Here are some of the key questions we are considering at the moment…


What Have We Learned in the Last 6 Months?

  1. Bureaucracy and the long decision-making process typically associated with architecture and design can be condensed into more efficient timelines.
  2. While we have been walking around the conversation of what the future of work looks like, the future is now, and we need a new set of best practices to ensure the spaces we are building will be needed ten and even 20 years from now.
  3. The digital revolution is here. Shopping malls and traditional centers of retail have been waning, but overnight became obsolete. How can we use the same innovation concepts discovered during COVID to reimagine what centers of commerce look like? How can we repurpose the current built environment to fit the needs of the new world?


How Can We Adapt Our Spaces to Prioritize Physical & Mental Wellbeing? 

Wellness in building design needs to be amplified. Here are some key questions we are considering in the realm of health and wellness:

  • How can we take best practices from the healthcare environment and apply them in a stylish way for hospitality, office and retail?
  • What simple solutions can be easily retrofitted to promote wellbeing in public and private spaces?
  • What design elements can be harnessed to benefit mental health?
  • How can we use design and architecture to ensure individuals—particularly those who are more at risk—can connect and maintain healthy personal relationships?


Can Design Address the Tension Between Economic Drivers & Health Concerns?

The profound changes required for businesses to reopen has been an enormous task, particularly in the hospitality sector, airlines, retail and collaborative workspaces, all of which rely on close proximity to operate at a profitable level.

  • What innovation can the design community bring to the restaurant industry? 
  • How can we create safer retail environments with contactless interactions that also feel personal and inviting?
  • What best practices learned from the rapid innovation that happened during COVID can be harvested and then reapplied across industries?

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will need to vet ideas, adapt solutions and create a series of best practices that will allow businesses to thrive under conditions now and well into the future.


What Happens Next?

COVID-19 is far from resolved. And, while we all have hopes for a vaccine, the truth is that this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. 

  • What can we do today that will allow our communities to remain resilient? 
  • How might we create a built environment that can be flexible and adaptable to all of the challenges that lie ahead?

The most important thing is to step back for a moment, gather the best ideas and minds together, and discover ways we can create an ecology that is adaptable, flexible, centered around mental and physical health, and above all, helps to bind our communities together to strengthen the relationship bonds that are so critical to our existence.

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