Quarantine makes all nonessential workers more intimately acquainted with the confines of their homes. We know everything about them, especially their flaws: the lack of daylight in one room, the dirty floor in another, the need for an extra bathroom.
Space is all we have to think about. For architects, it’s a soul-searching exercise, especially if you happen to live in a home you outfitted for yourself. The architect Koray Duman lives with his partner and their sixteen-month-old child in an apartment he designed, in the Lower East Side. Quarantine has led them to grow exhausted with the things they keep in the space, even though—with the exception of toddler accessories—they are relatively few. “You look at every detail of things. They limit you. If you have less you feel like you are more free, in a weird way,” Duman told me. Sustained scrutiny can breed discontent. Over the past two months, “interior designers got very busy,” he said. “People are, like, ‘I hate this space.’ ” Spending so long in one place might require an environment that can change more freely so that we don’t get bored. Usually a wall is static; “I don’t know that that’s necessary,” Duman said. “If it was on wheels, imagine how much fun you would have.”
Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, a couple and the principals of the firm so-il—which has designed art museums, housing developments, and pop-up projects like the tent for the Frieze Art Fair—have been staying in their home, near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with their two young daughters. It’s a bright white-walled duplex with open-plan common spaces. “Luckily, both our girls have their own rooms with thick doors,” Idenburg said. The arrangement comes in handy when the children have video-chat school sessions at the same time. Acoustic divisions have become more important while the family is crammed in together all day long, Idenburg noted. “The loft, the New York City typology, seems to be not the romantic thing at the moment. Everyone’s on Zoom calls.” A lack of privacy or the chance to move to a different room is harder to bear when bars, cafés, and stores can’t offer an escape.
Covid-19 calls for prophylactic design. Masks and gloves barricade our bodies like a second skin. Taped circles spaced six feet apart make sure we don’t contaminate others while standing in line at the grocery store. A Dutch restaurant built greenhouse-like glass booths around its outdoor tables to shield diners and waitstaff from each other. A German café tested out hats with pool noodles attached so that guests would know not to get too close to one another. A casino in Florida installed a thick sneeze guard of plastic on its poker tables, with clearance on the bottom for players’ hands.
We’ll have to be hyper-aware of the infrastructure of cleanliness. Are people taking their shoes off at the door? Is there a place by the door where you wash your hands? Le Corbusier solved the last problem by installing a freestanding sink in the entryway of his Villa Savoye, from 1931.