2020 in Hindsight

2020 has put technology, wellness and more into focus

By Julia Malisos

I am quite certain that even hindsight is not twenty/twenty when thinking about this past year; what is clear, is that we have the rest of our lives ahead of us — and what a bright future it can be. I am not one to dwell on the past, so I am taking this opportunity to celebrate our adaptations from 2020 to propel us into how we consider future design.

Technology — it has become our lifeline to work, family, supplies and gatherings. Public agencies have embraced it with city departments going from “one-stop shops” to “no-stop shops;” transforming traditionally in-person processes to online ones that have created unexpected productivity. The move to online systems has some cities realizing its advantages such as increased number of issued permits and the ability to perform virtual inspections. The new reliance on technology and virtual capabilities has resulted in efficiency, improved production and cost benefits. Driving to job sites has lessened, saving time and money, while also minimizing traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. The shift toward virtual technology has found many new advocates wanting to continue these modernized work methods.

In addition to agencies capitalizing on technology, so have home builders. Home sales miraculously continued when in-person interactions were strongly ill-advised, if not prohibited. During the height of the 2020 pandemic months, home sales endured through virtual tours. This advancement has prompted the reevaluation of sales strategies going forward, as the possibility of decreased dependence on physical models to sell homes opens the door for greater speed to market and less builder expense.

Le Corbusier said, “A house is a machine for living” — boy, is it! COVID-19 has required our homes to become more than a residence. Our homes have spatially and technologically transformed for living, working, educating and playing. They have become our offices, our classrooms, our everything. Quarantines have made designers further analyze how homes function for households. For example, some layouts are going back to traditional smaller rooms rather than the popular open floorplan, providing quieter areas for offices and classrooms. When gyms closed, garages and other spaces became home gyms and Zen rooms. Nooks and crannies that were usable, became occupied. Simply put, future floorplans need to provide flexibility to adapt to evolving day-and-night lifestyles.

The outdoors has always been enjoyed, but 2020 brought greater appreciation for them. Although play structures were often roped-off this year, merely having open space to roam around and get a change of scenery was a saving grace for many experiencing quarantine. The simplest of outdoor amenities were the most effective, legitimizing that basics such as fields, walking paths and places to spread out are the most timeless features. Parks were desired prior to 2020, were beneficial throughout 2020, and will continue to be a part of our built environment in the future.

2020 caused fitness centers and clubhouses to temporarily close, converting classes and group activities into virtual programs. Such transformations have renewed the discussion on what is priority for amenity packages and what can withstand outlier circumstances such as a highly contagious virus. What do people truly value and use to maintain a sense of community, their fitness routines, overall feelings of wellness and recreation.

Through the heartache and the nerves, 2020 has strengthened the need for flexibility and resiliency in our households and our built environments.”

The pain, sadness and slowdown caused by COVID-19 have given us the opportunity to reassess what is important. It has given us time for reflection, for family togetherness (as much as possible), and prioritization. For me, it has put healthy environments and personal wellness at the forefront. It has allowed me and my family to spend more time on our neighborhood sidewalks and in our beautiful parks. It has turned our underutilized formal dining room into an office, and it has spun other unused space into a gym for online workouts. Through the heartache and the nerves, 2020 has strengthened the need for flexibility and resiliency in our households and our built environments. The year 2020 has solidified the importance of homes as more than a place to eat and sleep, but places that provide reliable comfort and functionality, even in the most uncertain times. 2020 — thank you for energizing our ingenuity and design inspiration; but most of all, thank you to the countless people who saved so many precious lives this past year. 2021 – you’re coming into focus.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a Principal- Planning/Community Design at WHA Architecture, Planning and Design with offices in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and San Ramon. Julia can be reached at juliam@whainc.com