Equipped for the future with resilient, intelligent architecture

The Corona pandemic shows once again that the time is ripe for a new kind of architecture. An architecture that has high-performance materials with intelligent surfaces and that, above all, mediates between opposites and creates scope instead of delimiting. Essential to this are floor plan forms that can react flexibly to social change.

Text: Roland Pawlitschko


Viruses, super spreader events and incidence figures have dominated the news for a good year now. What is not immediately clear is that the current pandemic is a crisis that is highly relevant to architecture: How many people are allowed in what space? How does the lockdown change the human psyche when they are only allowed to leave their homes for valid reasons, and when they also work, care for their children, and care for relatives there? How can theaters, schools and swimming pools remain open despite the risk of viruses? All these questions are closely linked to the status quo of our built environment. In addition, there are considerations about new buildings that are suitable for pandemics. What will floor plans and interiors look like in the future? Will ubiquitous (transparent) partitions shape their image? Do we need more efficient, intelligent and hygienic materials?


In connection with all these questions, it is worth taking a look at the history of the city, which today is not facing a pandemic for the first time. Around 1920, between 20 and 50 million people worldwide succumbed to the Spanish flu alone, depending on estimates. The Bauhaus and classical modern architecture can be seen not least as a direct response to this. "Light, air and sun" were to be made available to as many people as possible in as short a time as possible at that time. This resulted not only in serial healthy housing units made of prefabricated components, but also in the principle of spatial separation of living and working, which is still applied in architecture and urban planning today.

But the functionally separated city leads to long distances and thus to a high volume of traffic with sickening air and particulate pollution. It also increases land consumption and promotes the emergence of monotonous urban districts. Last but not least, it has led to floor plans that offer as little scope for the unexpected in apartments and offices as they do in hospitals or the hotel industry. And this at a time when unpredictability has become the new normal.


Despite everything, the future of our built environment does not lie in a horror scenario of social distancing and rooms full of disinfection stations, separating discs and strictly separated flows of movement. Rather, it lies in resilient, intelligent architecture. "Our architecture should [...] have the same characteristics as the virus: adaptable, mobile, scalable and resilient," says Berlin architect Gustav Düsing in connection with his project for a mobile quarantine station. 

"The virus stands still neither spatially nor temporally - we should orient ourselves architecturally to these two conditions." In terms of residential buildings, for example, this could mean in concrete terms: instead of a multitude of uniform floor plans tailored primarily to single and small family living, we need larger multifunctional, flexible clusters. They allow for those changes that make the living environment livable even during a lockdown - be it through intergenerational contact with fellow residents or through integrated work, workshop and community spaces. "If we had already responded in terms of urban development and housing policy to this social transformation not only of the world of work but also of living models, we would have been better prepared architecturally for the Corona crisis and the lockdown," wrote the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the architecture journal "ARCH+," Anh-Linh Ngo, last summer in the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit." Basically, we don't need new architecture, we just need to implement and further develop those integrative ideas that many building groups and cooperatives, but also numerous progressive companies, have been living for years.



Increasing urbanization worldwide is inevitably leading to a densification of cities and thus ultimately to what we are facing in times of pandemic due to the close coexistence of many people. However, the Corona virus will not be able to stop urbanization because of this any more than previous pandemics have. 

Instead, however, it is likely to serve as a catalyst for the development of intelligent architectural solutions. Home offices and homeschooling in the home, as well as contact restrictions and distance rules in the office, do not necessarily require completely new types of floor plan configurations. Sometimes it's enough to better connect rooms with adjacent rooms by adding doors to facilitate changes in use or movement flows when needed. Simple measures like these lead - even without a pandemic - to multifunctionally usable rooms and houses and, as a result, to multifunctional and livable cities. 


In addition to building structures, materials and surfaces can also make an important contribution to a healthier and more resilient living and working environment. The example of silver quartzite shows that this does not necessarily have to involve coatings that are potentially harmful from a chemical and building biology point of view. Thanks to its high silicic acid content, this natural stone does not allow bacteria, fungi and germs to colonize its surfaces and is therefore used in particular in wet areas with high hygiene requirements. Tests conducted by the Landesgewerbeanstalt Bayern on various types of stone confirmed a comparably effective effect only for the material glass, which was used as a negative control. Similar to silver quartzite, titanium dioxide coatings also lead to antimicrobial surfaces through the photocatalytic self-cleaning effect. This technology is used, for example, on glass, wall paints, textiles, roof tiles and ceramics. 



In the Hytect surface finish used by AGROB BUCHTAL, the antimicrobial effect is created by a form of titanium dioxide specially developed for this application. It is applied at high heat during the ceramic manufacturing process and fuses inseparably and permanently with the material - unlike most other building materials with such coatings, titanium dioxide is bound in a closed surface here. The effectiveness, confirmed by several ISO certificates, is manifold. On the one hand, the Hytect ceramic naturally releases active oxygen in interaction with light and oxygen, which inhibits the growth of mold, viruses and bacteria directly on the surface. At the same time, water forms an ultra-thin film on this ceramic that washes away dirt and grease, making these tiles extremely easy to clean. And finally, the ceramic activates natural processes to clean the air of nitrogen oxides and odors, for example. All of these properties make the material ideal for both weathered building envelopes and a variety of interior spaces. Hygienic, easy-to-clean ceramic surfaces are by no means only needed in kitchens, sanitary rooms, swimming pools and hospitals. They are also in demand wherever large numbers of people frequently come together: in the public areas of offices, schools and public authorities, but also in restaurants, hotels and museums. 


The effects of titanium dioxide coatings on the corona virus have not yet been conclusively investigated scientifically. What is certain, however, is that such intelligent material solutions, together with holistic architecture, are even now helping to develop more flexible and resilient concepts - no matter what the use in question. Regardless of this, we will probably not be able to avoid breaking with the modern model of functional separation in our cities and houses that is a good hundred years old - as well as with one-dimensional thinking in relation to our living models. Instead, it should be replaced by an interdisciplinary, interconnected world of cycles that not only helps us deal with pandemics by increasing our scope, but also strengthens society as a whole at the same time. This approach is not new, but now - also in view of climate change - there is one more compelling reason to actually implement it.

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