The Business Times

Urban living will flourish post-pandemic, but building design needs a rethink

It's not just about sustainable buildings, but a sustainable lifestyle that will lead to better physical and mental health.

Published Fri, Jul 2, 2021 · 05:50 AM

WE keep reading that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed attitudes towards city living, and that the suburbs and the rural areas are in future where people will want to make their home. Remote working has made this possible for many. Property is less expensive. The air is cleaner, the landscape fresher and greener. And who wants to commute to a city-centre office?

The death of the city is, however, greatly exaggerated. Covid-19 has changed the world, but in home and work locations it has accelerated an existing trend, rather than upended an established pattern of living and working. By taking advantage of this crisis, we can improve the lives of city dwellers and indeed improve our cities.

Cities are very special places to be. They embody the best of humankind and contain enormous energy. We are social creatures, and nothing beats face-to-face personal interaction. We thrive on entertainment, art, shops, restaurants, and easy travel. We need access to good schools and universities, and to clinics and hospitals.

We need to work in cohesive groups for better interaction and creativity, which cannot be replaced with virtual work as remote teams lose the discipline of the workday rhythm and the camaraderie. A careful blending of home and office working was already beginning to happen, and online shopping was reducing the need for daily shopping. Yet, a fully remote lifestyle will not be the norm for most people as we emerge into the changed world.

Now that we can see an end to the pandemic, it is becoming apparent that much of the media commentary relating to the demise of urban living has perhaps been a little overblown. There will continue to be strong demand for residential and hospitality offerings in cities, but the qualities and amenities that we place at the top of our list for selecting shelter may be slightly adjusted.

Urban living is ecologically and economically more sustainable. By focusing on building within population centres, planners can utilise existing infrastructure without the need to reinvest in outlying areas. Development in urban areas creates more walkable cities, thus diminishing the ecological footprint as the population has less reliance on vehicles.


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Here is where we come to the change in focus for new developments, and the necessity for new building standards.

For urban development to be successful, buildings need to better address the mental and physical needs of their occupants. These needs are both aesthetically important with design and in promoting good health. This was a trend that was emerging shortly before the pandemic, and Covid-19 has simply put the boosters under it.

Our own firm had already begun to focus on design principles from Japanese and Scandinavian architecture in our recent development projects. Architects from these two very different parts of the world tend to share the common belief that designs should incorporate a sense of perfection and a commitment to the natural world. Simplicity is paramount, with decluttering an important aspect.

We have always designed our apartment projects with resort-style facilities, to provide a relaxing and healthy environment for the residents. We had not anticipated how well this approach would suit the needs of the post-pandemic world. Added to this is the concept of biophilic design, which is the infusion of direct and indirect nature into a development, bringing greenery, water, natural light and fresh air into homes and offices.

One of our newest developments, Mastery by Crown Group, located at Waterloo, has simplicity of the architecture complemented by greenery that is implanted into the exterior facade of one of the buildings as a "stacked forest" concept that is a first for Sydney. Another, Waterfall by Crown Group, also in Waterloo, has become an ideal model for biophilic design, with corridors that are open to the elements to let fresh air in, as well as balconies at each apartment. There are tropical gardens implanted in the vertical green walls, and the development contains Australia's tallest constructed waterfall, at 22m high, creating soothing water sounds.


The residential development industry and governments now need to rethink building design standards so that they better foster physical and mental wellbeing in the post-Covid world.

People who live in well-designed homes that offer plenty of living and working space, access to gardens and fresh air, as well as facilities such as play areas, fitness studios and music rooms, are healthier and happier. Working from home during lockdown has highlighted that families need more working and personal space. This may signal a move away from open plan living towards a phased model of using space, where different family members use the home at different times of day.

The pandemic must force a rethink of house and apartment design so that all residents are able to feel secure, relaxed and socially connected when they are at home. This ultimately will lead to better physical and mental health. The hotel industry has, in recent years, been putting an emphasis on wellness; now the residential industry needs to follow. It's not just about sustainable buildings, but a sustainable lifestyle.

Throughout the past year and more, we've all seen the value and joy public spaces have brought people, even while physically distanced. There is also growing recognition of the crucial role green spaces play in urban areas, particularly in high-density areas where residents don't have direct access to open space. What we don't want is for people to perceive that their only ability to access green space is to escape the city.

With limited opportunities to include further green spaces in the densest of urban environments, any opportunity to increase it should become a priority. This brings challenges in terms of architecture and also of the necessary building standards that regulate such new forms of development, but we shall all feel the benefits.

  • The writer is an architect, and is chief executive officer of Crown Group, an Australian property development company.


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