Now that we’re several weeks into the work from home orders issued by most of our governments, we’ve all had a bit of time to adapt to the new social protocols, maybe fine-tune the home office, and reconsider what it means to be healthy, sane and productive in this new quarantine environment. Here at BUILD we are fascinated by social behavior, the designed environment, and effective adaptation, so our research department asked a handful of colleagues and friends we esteem for their insights, methods, and wisdom about how they are navigating the new reality. All of these individuals are important to us, and we’re humbled and grateful that they took the time to engage and share their experiences in response to the following two questions. Enjoy.
1. How do you anticipate your industry/business may change as a result of the current social distancing protocol?
2. Did you have any existing routines or rituals that have helped you to ease into the current state of affairs, or are you practicing new ones?
PETER MILLER, Owner, Peter Miller Books
It was a chase economy, impelled by greed, distrust and a lunatic president. That was not the cause of the plague, though it was the cause of the mishandling of the plague. Did you think there would never be a debt to pay for your cheating infrastructure, your deceitful education economy, your irresponsibility to the world? Did you think you could chase profit and get out and no one would catch you?
Did you think the courage to be greedy was the same as having courage?
There is no more boring investment than infrastructure—that takes courage. No more boring investment than education and health. That takes courage.
Did you think that free shipping meant the shipping was free?
Did you think you would always be so distracted that you would never read again?
Did you think that one day, you would have that whole day, for your own, with your close ones?
CHASE JARVIS, Founder, CreativeLive
1. CreativeLive provides a place for online learning; we virtually gather people in online classes and conferences, in a live Internet environment. Given the current global situation, we’re seeing a surge in traffic and engagement, which has led to an expansion of our business on every axis. It’s strange to have been working on something for ten years — and it’s been a rewarding business — and then a game-changer like this happens. The need for the social aspect of online learning is something we never considered. We have prioritized all of our health and wellness classes and are streaming them for free at creativelive.com/wellnessclasses. We’ve also launched a new channel, creativelive.com/TV, where we film from the homes, studios, and kitchens of many of the top creators in the world to deliver musical performances, exhibitions and real-time instruction—we also present conversations with entrepreneurs who are reinventing their businesses. This variety of shows is open to everyone, and they’re made to entertain, inspire, and connect.
2. I think it’s really important to have routines in a world where there are so many things that we can’t control. We can’t control the behavior of others; we can’t control the spread of the virus; and we can’t control what governments and regulators do, etc. This produces a tremendous amount of uncertainty, but it also makes me want to double down on the things I can control. These include establishing some true and positive habits that nurture my mind and physicality, such as placing a premium on sleep, creating structure in my day, and maintaining my long-standing morning routine of meditation, mindfulness, positive visualization, writing, practicing gratitude, and eating clean.
PATRICK FOLEY, Co-Founder/Principal, Lake Union Partners
1. Over time I think people will return to what is familiar in their human interactions, but I won’t be surprised if they avoid shaking hands or hugging at meetings for a while (yes, Seattle is huggy). I think once a vaccine is approved and makes its way into society, people will worry less about the coronavirus just like they did with the flu and other virus’. I believe that businesses working in the built environment, and other sectors will forever change how they meet; after three weeks of using multiple online services, such as Zoom and Teams, I no longer see the need to have weekly in-person meetings—there’s so much that can be efficiently accomplished on these platforms. Or perhaps some of the regular meetings will be reduced to monthly in-person gatherings. Traffic would significantly improve by having fewer in-person meetings; for example, I work with an architect who has to drive from the Green Lake neighborhood over to the Central District every Thursday morning at 8am, and it would be great if she didn’t have to do this to add value to the meeting. People will be able to sit in their local coffee shop or favorite café and participate in a meeting that is miles away.
2. Not really. Given that all 12 members of our company are working away from the office, we are doing more check-ins with everyone. Incredibly, everyone has acclimated well, and the team continues to work hard. The days are flying by and I believe in some ways we are actually more productive now. We intend to put extra effort into keeping our office surfaces disinfected more than previously, but over time and once a vaccine is in effect, I can see us being a little less worried about it.
ED WEINSTEIN, Principal, Weinstein A+U
1. We were caught relatively unprepared when the COVID-19 crisis hit, and we didn’t have a formalized “work-from-home” policy so we made one up on the fly. In early March, when the tech firms encouraged their staffs to work from home, we recognized that we should allow ours to do the same. We then moved quite quickly to encourage them to do this, and when Governor Inslee mandated it, we were almost all working from home. Up to that point, we had been using Zoom on projects with remote clients, and we were surprised when the platform easily accommodated our 30-person staff meetings, client and intra-office team meetings, office-wide project design review sessions, celebrations, and happy hours. I imagine that when we are able to occupy our office again, some of our behaviors will fundamentally change. Hand washing and sanitizing protocols will certainly be ever-present, along with significantly less hand shaking. Our work stations are pretty generous, so I don’t think we will have a problem with social distancing, but I suspect that we will space ourselves a bit further apart in conferences and meetings. And I’m certain that as we continue to get used to working remotely, we will invest in the hardware, software, and protocols that will allow us to do so more productively. Given the magnitude of this crisis, we would be foolish to waste the opportunity to rethink a number of the ways in which we work.
2. I have always had a home office with a drawing board, layout space, and flat files (remember, I’m a dinosaur), so, working from home is nothing new. However, I am purchasing a large home printer/copier/scanner so I can continue to produce 11” x 17” drawings to send to clients and staff without running to the office. There are aspects of working from home that are very nice, such as sleeping in a bit each morning (no commute), taking more time for lunch, working out more regularly, talking more frequently with my children, and walking the dog. I would like to see if I can maintain some of these behaviors once we return to working from the office.
ELIZABETH GOLDEN, Associate Professor, University of Washington
1. I am currently teaching a design studio online (using Zoom) to a group of students who I did not know before this quarter. I have often wondered if it would be possible to teach studio remotely, but had my doubts. Most architecture faculty would probably agree that it’s the one course that must be taught in person. It’s still early days, but I’m optimistic that we will learn from this experience and could potentially adopt some of the remote methods and positive aspects of online learning to physical space studios. For example, working remotely is common for firms with international projects, so this experience might actually prepare students for that type of work, or for working remotely from places with a lower cost of living (I know people who are already doing this). Perhaps more firms will entertain this form of working now that the framework is in place. In addition, we can now invite guest critics from other cities in the US or internationally. This experience will certainly make us scrappier (a word I’ve heard BUILD use on more than one occasion), and it pushes us out of our daily routines and forces us to work with new tools and to rethink how we communicate with one another.
2. I have always been a bread baker, and now this activity has taken on more meaning because it’s so essential and calming. I am also an avid community gardener at the Thomas Street Gardens on Capitol Hill. I really appreciate still being able to talk with the other gardeners while we are tending our plots (all at a distance of course). And finally, the advice I have been giving my students: focus on the things that have not changed. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the sun is shining. Nature keeps on going and I find that very reassuring.
NATHAN TORGELSON, Director, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
1. Our SDCI staff has become more tech-savvy, and in a hurry! I anticipate that in the future more meetings will occur via Skype and Microsoft Teams. We have also started doing some simple inspections via technology, and I imagine this will continue, especially with Seattle traffic making it more difficult for inspectors to crisscross the city doing inspections (once things get back to normal). Although the initial rollout was rocky, two years ago we thankfully moved to an entirely electronic plan submittal, review and issuance process, with Accela, which has allowed staff to continue to be productive while working from home.
2. I send out a daily email updating staff with the latest information about what is happening at the City and in the department to help them feel connected. I include humor, mindfulness and empathy. We have daily grounding Skype calls for anyone on staff who wants to call in, and we hold daily SDCI Leadership Team Skype calls at lunch, and at the end of the day for staff to discuss wins and struggles and to ask questions. With almost 90% of our staff working from home, many feel isolated and want to connect. We will soon be trying a department-wide Skype call.
RAY CALABRO, Principal, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
1. We don’t know the full extent of how the industry may change because we’re still in the midst of this new reality. Working remotely has pushed us to be more proactive about connecting with each other, and to be more creative in the ways we connect. I’ve been inspired by our firm’s enthusiasm for digital collaboration, and for their ability to solve issues of productivity, work-life balance, and technical challenges. We published a new monograph earlier this year called Gathering, which is ironic considering it’s not possible to gather right now. However, beyond using technology like Zoom and Teams, I think we need to connect with each other in person, not just as an industry, but as a culture. Our desire for community and connection has not dissipated. How we gather has changed, but the need for it has not.
2. As a firm of 150 people with six offices around the country, last year we started using Microsoft Teams as a way to stay more connected with each other. There are many of us in firm-wide roles who frequently collaborate across all of our offices, and as such we had a platform in place to share files, instant message, and hold video conferences. Because this was already part of our workflow, we found it eased the transition to working fully from home.
Personally, it’s been important to me to hold the same morning routine: walk the dog, eat breakfast, take a shower, get dressed for work, have my cup of tea, and establish a sense of order to my home workspace. I’m not really a morning person, and without a clear routine I can become distracted and unproductive, and it has also helped me to stay positive in the face of so much uncertainty.
A-P HURD, President, Skipstone
1. Real estate is full of one-off projects that ask people to come up with brand new solutions, which is harder to do with everyone calling-in on the phone. I can’t wait to go back to in-person team meetings for technical problem-solving. Also, it’s so hard to build relationships with new capital partners without in-person time. Social distancing is making me appreciate face-to-face contact all the more.
2. I love to walk, and I am walking more than ever. Before COVID-19, if I had a tough day or week, getting together with friends often made me feel better. Now, walking — sometimes for two to three hours — is a way to get through challenging bits. Longer walks take me to parts of the city that I’ve never seen, and I have more respect than ever for Wordsworth and the urban Victorians who walked all day to get out to the countryside on their Sundays off.
ALEX HILLINGER, Founder, Curvejumping
1. For our business, which is primarily research and strategy, we’ve had the capability to do remote/digital research for a while, but now we’re actively pitching this as a way for our clients to continue to do research while the pandemic limits everyone’s ability to travel and gather in groups. Strategic discussions are a bit more challenging via Zoom, but we’ve been doing them, too. Some things get lost in translation, but it’s definitely better than not doing strategy and just waiting until we can all get in a room together.
At a broader scale, we’re seeing most of our clients adopting WFH as the new status quo until further notice, and that’s definitely changing how they make decisions. People seem to have adapted really quickly, and having children in the background of virtual meetings, working at odd hours, and things just taking longer to get done are elements of our new normal for the foreseeable future.
2. Exercise has been really challenging to maintain in the way I used to do it— regular workout sessions and yoga classes. I’ve had to adapt to getting exercise when it’s time to be watching my kids, so we’ve been taking long bike rides and playing a lot of tennis. And we’re not the only ones playing more tennis, as the courts have been really busy here in Jackson Hole. I still manage to get a weekly backcountry hike with my snowboard, so that’s one existing routine I’ve kept.
I think maintaining one’s mental resilience through this pandemic is essential for everyone. This is a marathon not a sprint, so whatever it takes to keep your head on straight, whether yoga or an afternoon cocktail, is AOK in my book.
RICK MOHLER, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Principal, Mohler + Ghillino Architects
1. For decades we’ve witnessed the ironic dilemma of professionals and academics alike increasingly boarding carbon emitting planes to travel to distant locations to attend conferences focused on addressing climate change and social equity. Now all of those conferences are online. While it doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction it’s working better than many had thought and it may well persist. Despite the impacts to the airline industry, this would be a good thing.
For decades architects have asked themselves how the profession can be made more diverse and inclusive. Making architectural education less expensive and more flexible is a strategy to do so. However, architectural educators have generally dismissed the notion of educating future architects online. Now it is mandatory. It is unclear what long-term impact this will have on architectural education but it seems unlikely to simply disappear once the pandemic has subsided.
Many companies and their employees are experiencing the mutual benefits of working from home including the potential of reduced office overhead, commuting expenses and work/life flexibility. This is unlikely to disappear when the pandemic subsides. This will have a significant impact on commercial real estate and will likely influence residential design to allow for expanded live/work alternatives.
Roughly a third of the land area in U.S. cities consists of public rights-of-way that, for nearly a century, have been largely devoted to the movement and storage of private property (cars). With reduced traffic and the demand for more public open space due to social distancing, we’re now experiencing the health and community benefits of re-assigning these spaces for public use. When the pandemic subsides we will see whether habit and “convenience” will trump collective benefit and community well-being.
2. Running is a routine that has kept me sane so far. However, finding places to safely do so is becoming more challenging. We have a “socially distant” neighborhood gathering at 6:40 PM daily. We sit no less than 6 feet apart on opposite curbs of one block and the street becomes our living room. Sometimes a bar is set up in the middle. One patron at a time, please.
STEVEN HOLL, Principal, Steven Holl Architects
Transformation of Consciousness
“Modern Philosophy, starting with Hegel, has succumbed to the strange illusion that man, in distinction from other things has created himself.”
—Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind
“When we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
“A breath is enough to invoke the realm of religious experience.”
I imagine the coronavirus, this strange breath—this robbing plague engulfing the globe today, will change humanity in some ways. On this earth, being alive is a gift. Today, we are humbled and shocked by the unknown. Our vulnerable species — humankind — has in recent decades, caused the disintegration of ecosystems of nature at “cataclysmic rate.” Going forward, our species must re-value itself—we must have a transformation of consciousness that includes at least seven points:
1. Respect the power of nature.
2. Our species’ actions should primarily focus on protecting earth, home.
3. Recognize we are a global community—not nationalistic parasites on this earth.
4. Planning for all environments and architecture should embrace our codependence.
5. Privatized and political tribe-like divisions must be abolished.
6. We should collectively enforce intolerance of power abuse, lies, and manipulation of media.
7. Deep appreciation for workers in healthcare, farming, food supplies, and all community-supporting actions—and attention to creativity in all of the arts and their spiritual optimistic forces.
Steven was kind enough to provide one of his celebrated watercolors for the header of this post. The image captures the design concept for a memorial chapel in New York City to commemorate the lives lost to the coronavirus. The watercolor depicts a light-filled memorial room with simple walls of photos with names. Light comes from seven light cannons inspired by Iannis Xenakis. Each one has different geometry analogous to a different faith. The narthex would commemorate the doctors, nurses, and medical workers.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone that contributed to today’s post. Stay healthy, safe, and sane out there.