Coronavirus in 2020 will be one for the history books, but what the last 20 years have shown us is that epidemic illness in an increasingly small world is the new normal. Ebola, SARS, H1N1, MERS, and Zika all caused countless deaths and these may not be the last epidemics in our lifetimes. As millions around the world shelter in place and have to restrict their movements, there is a shift in the perception of domesticity and all things house and home. As an architect who is primarily involved in designing residential projects, there are a lot of questions that immediately come to mind. At the most basic level the COVID-19 crisis will change how people work, study, learn, entertain, network, and seek healthcare and wellness. There are challenges related to the allocation of space and floor planning, but other factors include security, technology, materiality, sustainability, cleanliness, and self-sufficiency.

Over the last few weeks, I have been talking to friends and acquaintances to see how this has affected how they think about their floor plans. One of the first things I hear is, “No more open plans!” This is a huge shift in residential design thinking. For those of us who are children of the ’60s and ’70s, the open concept house is like a comfy couch everyone gravitates towards. Home shows are filled with remodels where the buzzwords are “knock down these walls,” “create an open plan,” and “great room.” For years, we’ve been looking at glossy magazines that show kitchens and dining rooms opening into living spaces that spill out into idyllic gardens. All these articles talk about entertaining and gathering. Suddenly, we’re not prioritizing entertaining and gathering, but focusing on working, schooling, cooking, storing, cleaning, and taking care of our families. We’re thinking about resting and finding a quiet space for “me time” in a house that is chock-full and yet somehow must function as a panacea for all that ails us.

Many people are adapting to working from home, and there are indications that remote work may not go away even after the pandemic is under control. If the workforce of so many industries can move to a virtual platform, many employers may rethink how much they need to rent or purchase for a dedicated office space. Although flex spaces have been the trend in residential design, when work, school, and leisure all collapse together within the home, it’s hardly harmonious. Many are struggling to organize their workspace and share it with the other multiple functions that are often allocated to those same spaces, such as watching TV or eating. A dedicated room that allows for paperwork, filing, printing, and online conferencing—that is, a true, single-function home office—is quickly becoming a necessity.

I’m not convinced open plans are the enemy, but more thoughtful integrated spaces that can give privacy to each occupant of a house are going to become the new norm. When everyone is home all the time, finding spaces, where we can have some alone time to work or rest, is very important. In a conversation with my neighbor who is both a schoolteacher and a mother of three school-age children, she bemoaned that the current bedrooms in her home afford little space for work. Her children are finding it difficult to have a dedicated space that is needed for online learning. Additionally, most single-family homes don’t have WiFi that is robust enough for multiple users and demanding content. Designing and wiring homes that can better carry WiFi signals are part of the solution. Space planning is the other part; bedrooms could be designed with study spaces in mind or a single study room with multiple carrels.

As levels of uncertainty and anxiety about the economic future of the country rise for many homeowners, a safe room is no longer a far-out concept. Currently, I get a few requests per year to design bunker-like spaces. Trends in mass-buying of essential supplies coupled with needs for a space to shelter or self-isolate grow the sentiment that a safe room is a good idea.

The safe room is related to the sick room concept. This would be a space that could be shut off from the rest of the house and ideally be completely self-sufficient with limited access for food and supplies. It should also have a separate HVAC, easy WiFi access for telemedicine purposes, and the capacity to connect to health monitoring devices.

The highly infectious nature of the coronavirus makes us wish for dedicated entry rooms or anterooms that contain areas for decontaminating people and goods before bringing them inside. These spaces would include a place to remove street clothes, store street shoes, wash clothing, and a place to clean hands or even shower. These rooms would also be made to be easy to clean with waterproof surfaces and floor drains.

Once inside all of those supplies need dedicated storage. One idea is larger pantries with adaptable cabinets or shelving that can adapt the temperature to accommodate different quantities of cold, frozen, or room temp food as needs change.

We are becoming acutely aware of how surfaces can become agents to spread disease. Thoughtful design strategies and the use of easy cleaning materials will become more important in the post-pandemic world. Doors, cabinets, faucets, light switches, and other surfaces that are touched repeatedly could be designed differently to use touchless operation apps or low-tech solutions like open shelving. There are also anti-microbial coatings being developed that could be used to make surfaces less susceptible to breeding germs.

Houses may get larger due to the need for so many dedicated spaces, and larger houses use more resources. Sustainability will be an issue as houses grow in size because cities cannot continue to expand utility services endlessly. People are becoming more and more interested in the idea of solar power with battery collection, rainwater collection, and greywater reuse. The other thing that would make self-sufficiency more possible for suburban areas is on-site sewage facilities (OSSF). OSSF are the norm in rural areas, but grey water collection for watering vegetable gardens in more urban areas could start to gain some traction, thus reducing water consumption in urban areas.

Many people have likened the coronavirus pandemic to a war. War has historically been a driver of innovation. In the coming months, as we try to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we will start to see the way it impacts us as a society, physically, emotionally, and mentally. There will also be developments in science and technology that affect design. It will be challenging to see how design starts to adapt to this new world and a new way of thinking about how we live and work.