This is a call to designers and architects to think about our future in this new world, to rethink the norms of collaboration with ourselves and society and our connection to the basis of life – the natural world.
Our vulnerability is being tested. We are trying to understand what normalcy is. Our daily life has changed tremendously over the past few weeks. City streets are empty and those of us who are lucky enough are working in our home offices surrounded by our immediate families. Yet there are people working in the trenches every day: doctors, nurses, janitors, caretakers, city workers who help to keep us safe that do not have the luxury of working from home. Where do they go to rest?
What is happening today will greatly affect our life post-pandemic and we need to think about a world that is more sustainable and more connected to the natural world.
In the 1980’s I was a child when communism fell in Romania. Because Romania’s communist dictator, Ceausescu, decided he wanted to pay back the country’s foreign debt at any cost, he literally starved the population. Romania had a reasonably productive agriculture, but everything that could be exported, would be sold abroad for dollars. I grew up in the mountains in a small town in the middle of the country and had very limited contact with any kind of urban space. Most of my time outside of school was spent in the woods either foraging for berries or whatever the fruit or vegetable of the season was available to be picked. Otherwise, I was helping my grandparents on our small farm, raising the animals and tending to the garden. Our food came from the forest and the garden, and most of our clothes were made by our grandparents. We were fully dependent on what we grew and found. The cities had a more difficult time; because of lack of food, there were long lines at the stores and very little to eat.
After the revolution, our lives were opened to opportunities, both in terms of available products, clothing and food that we had never seen before. We were also allowed to travel outside of the country, so I was lucky to come by myself to the United States at 16 to study. Here, there were plenty of opportunities; there was a lot of comfort and an abundance of goods like I had never experienced before.
I am an architect and a designer, with a great education that I am proud to have received here. But what I miss the most from my experience as a child is the very close connection to the natural world. We depended on each other and I knew the movements of the clouds and what they meant. I could tell the weather from the color of the sky and followed the paths of seasons.
This current pandemic has created chaos in every aspect of our lives. We struggle each day to find the new normal that is constantly changing. We are fully dependent on a vast network of events to put simple things like pasta on the table. We suddenly realize that we cannot survive without each other.
Living in comfort, like we have so far, made it very easy to be disconnected from nature in its true sense. We do not see the sky anymore nor the clouds running across the sky. It is time to do so.
During this time of reflection, we should think about our priorities and direct our minds towards a better future - more connected, sustainable and mindful of our planet. We have a moment now, as designers and architects to reflect on where we are today and use our knowledge and imagination to design solutions towards environments that are self-sustaining. We have a moment to think beyond our daily comfort as we are reminded of our vulnerability and to develop a strategy for buildings that are not only connected to the natural environment at its core, but places that foster connectivity among ourselves in ways beyond the physical.
Our world will change drastically, and we will be responsible for helping everyone live a better life in this post-pandemic environment. We need to have an open conversation about how the environments of our future will change to be more connected, yet self-sustaining, to survive through moments of necessity while providing the amazing comfort that our culture has created.
We need to slow down to start thinking about our society in its global sense more now than ever, and realize that we are all dependent on each other. Borders are an invention of our ideals, and they do not exist in nature in the same way. Just as the natural world has an amazing interdependence, we have to look beyond this moment to generate models for more integrated housing, medical facilities and work environments.