Architects are failing to appreciate the enormity of Covid-19 and should use their problem-solving abilities to help fight the global pandemic, a prominent public health expert has told the AJ
John Ashton, a former regional director of public health for north-west England, criticised architect practices that were continuing to encourage or allow staff to work in the office, saying non-essential workers must stay at home.
Last week, the AJ revealed Sheppard Robson was facing questions after it emerged that more than 100 employees were working from its Camden headquarters as late as last Friday. Yesterday (March 23), an AHMM newsletter confirmed that a self-selecting number of staff ‘whose preference it is not to work from home’ were continuing to work at its London and Bristol offices alongside a small number of support staff.
However, the government is tightening restrictions on life in Britain by the day and last night prime minister Boris Johnson brought in sweeping new curbs, including stopping all travelling to and from work unless it ‘absolutely cannot be done from home’.
Sheppard Robson employees have lined up to criticise the AJ’s story, saying that no one had been forced to work in the office. But Ashton said: ‘The response of the company shows an inability to get to grips with the impending seriousness and reality of the situation together with elements of narcissism about the importance of their creative contribution being more important than the national emergency.
‘In one sense though what they have done is understandable because everyone has been slow on the uptake and the advice from the prime minister has not been clear enough’.
Ashton warned that the number of deaths was doubling every three days and said he feared hospitals would be inundated and would ‘fall over’ in several weeks’ time.
‘Economically, and in terms of construction, the situation will be like what we saw after the First and Second World Wars and lots of companies will have gone bankrupt,’ he said.
One might ask what such a collection of talented people should be doing now, rather than pressing on with projects that may never see the light of day
Returning to the role of architects, he said many schemes now being worked on would be cancelled and urged the profession to ‘reorientate itself for the social purpose’.
He added: ‘One might ask the question what such a collection of talented people should be doing now rather than pressing on with projects that may never see the light of day in the post-apocalyptic landscape that beckons.
‘Have they ideas about the designing out of coronavirus from the settings of our everyday lives now? Things people can do with their domestic settings and spatial arrangements that they find themselves in? Ventilation, space and sunlight all mitigate against the virus’.
Ashton also acknowledged much of the profession’s current focus on fighting the climate emergency but said both could be combatted at once. ‘We need utility design with eco-design,’ he said.
Speaking on this morning’s BBC Today programme, London mayor Sadiq Khan said only essential workers such as NHS staff or those in food production should still be travelling to work.
The RIBA, which declined to comment on the Sheppard Robson story, has been urging members to work from home ‘if it is possible to do so.’
Today, the institute’s chief executive Alan Vallance, said: ‘We strongly recommend all practice leaders make necessary working from home arrangements for their staff.
’The government has emphasised the crucial importance of social distancing and has been clear that businesses should support their staff’s welfare and encourage employees to work at home wherever possible.’