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Scottish govt says offices and schools need redesign for lockdown to be eased

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The Scottish government has said lockdown could be eased if classrooms and offices are redesigned to support social distancing measures

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted distancing measures were likely to extend beyond 2020 but said schools and some businesses could re-open if their workplaces were redesigned.

‘It may be that some businesses in some sectors can reopen, but only if they can change how they work to keep employees and customers 2m distant from each other,’ she said.

‘With schools, classrooms may have to be redesigned to allow social distancing, so maybe not all children can go back to, and be at, school at the same time.’

In a ‘Framework for Decision-Making’ document published yesterday, the Scottish government confirmed it would work with partners across society ‘to redesign workplaces, education settings and other premises so they are places where spread is minimised’.

The announcement by Scottish government is the first official acknowledgement that public and business spaces may have to be adapted for a ‘new normal’ after lockdown is eased.

The Royal Incorporation of Scottish Architects responded to the announcement by writing to the chief architect at the Scottish government and offering ‘assistance in developing design solutions and adaptions required to address the likely future changes’.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government told the AJ: ‘We very much welcome the offer of assistance from RIAS to assist with classroom re-design and we will explore all potential options as we take forward our exit strategy from lockdown.’

Jude Barber, director at Glasgow-based Collective Architecture, said: ‘Given the spatial and behavioural challenges surrounding the pandemic, it seems only right that architects, landscape architects and planners should be central to the discussion and share their ideas and expertise.’

But Alan Dunlop, visiting professor in architecture at the University of Liverpool, told the AJ: ‘It is not a great idea to redesign classrooms, lecture theatres, or studios.’

Dunlop described the cost of the measure as ‘prohibitive’ and said: ‘Even if you could compartmentalise classrooms, there is the issue of common areas, such as stairways, corridors, toilets etc and the no small matter of parents and carers collecting and dropping off children at the same time.’

He added: ‘I have never seen a retrofit school that works particularly well and certainly none that would promote learning.’

Can architects redesign spaces to make them safe?

Chris Dobson Having spent years analysing our workspaces (and concluded they need to be deconstructed and re-imagined to create more collaborative, comfortable and communal environments), how do we reconcile the need for human interaction with the presence of a highly contagious virus?

If we are not to recreate the isolation of working from a kitchen table, or a make-shift desk in a bedroom, great care must be taken. A simple thinning of workstations would not seem to cut it. And what about the contained vessel of the passenger lift, communal kitchens and the imposed proximity of many shared sanitary facilities?

Beyond the immediate and the make-do, there are fundamental questions to answer and creative responses required to some of the most challenging briefs that we are likely to receive within the profession. Our societal health and wellbeing is truly on the line.’

Chris Dobson is a director at 3D Reid

Robin Livingstone Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday on redesigning the spaces we share to pull us apart and seek greater isolation goes against the purpose of our craft, to gather people together and keep each other close. In the short term we will need to come together to use what we have more flexibly and creatively for all our collective safety.

This would seem as much about logistics as it is design, but architects have the skills to make the most of what we have available. But longer term, my hope is this will reignite debates on the ever decreasing space standards in our homes, work places and schools, the quality of the outdoor spaces we provide, the importance of light and natural ventilation in our buildings and the need for generous, accessible civic space in our cities.

Robin Livingstone is a director at Fraser/Livingstone Architects

Peter Drummond The market, and austerity, has been squeezing space standards throughout the sector for a very long time. As a consequence we find ourselves with very many buildings which will require significant adaptation if we are facing a medium to long-term requirement for even modest social distancing, be it in the school or in the workplace. Meanwhile, many in social and large-scale housing provisions will have found the current isolation and staying in requirements extremely difficult to deal with, to say the least.

It is in everyone’s interests for a return to the ‘new normal’ – whatever that might be. I therefore very much welcome the first minister’s recognition that adaptation is required, and hope that our sector works together as a matter of urgency to bring the expertise from science and design/construction together to provide not only solutions for working now, but how we might need to work and operate in our buildings going forward.

Peter Drummond is a director at Peter Drummond Architects

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Readers' comments (2)

  • The only viable option would be to expand the school week, as in other parts of Europe and some places in Asia, to facilitate a rota of children, teachers and parents. This would ensure smaller class numbers, maintain the required social distancing and maximise the use of buildings without alteration. However, I can foresee resistance from vested interests, such as teachers and their unions.

    Clearly this is an enormous social challenge but if there are to be long term strategic changes to how we work, teach and socialise then it is imperative that architects be involved from the outset, not only to provide their specific design and planning skills but also to challenge any group think coming from policy makers. If there is a decision to go ahead with retrofitting schools and other public places then architects need to be included.

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  • Gary Erickson

    PPE seems more likely than a built response for education.
    Children's safety helmets, like a bike helmet with face shield, may be more efficient, as children may already use the bike helmet.
    The helmet, goggles, and facemask have too many parts to work.
    A motorcycle helmet is similar, but too heavy and expensive, and may be too enclosed and hot to wear.
    Yes a plastic face shield on a bike helmet, maybe with velcro attachment, could be a great DIY for parents with not much money. No classy "designer" extras despite advertiser profits, please.

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