Hafsa Burt, Architectural Thought Leader on Building Design Practices Post-COVID

·5 min read

SAN FRANCISCO, CA / ACCESSWIRE / January 21, 2021 / The past 12 months have taught the building industry that it must never relent in its quest to discover fresh, sustainable solutions that champion the health and safety concerns of building occupants everywhere. Tenants need to feel safe, and the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how buildings are renovated and designed going into the future.

Image Credit: 123rf.com / 4045qd.

Public Restrooms Must be Healthier to Prevent Spread of Infections

COVID-19 has created a new set of concerns for building and space design. The creation of safe and healthy indoor spaces that reduce the spread of airborne and surface contaminants is now of prime importance. Regular cleaning of high-touch areas cannot be less emphasized, and the guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) must be adhered to accordingly.

Airport Restrooms Can be Modeled for Commercial Building Best Practices

The restroom layout commonly seen at airports may be the best approach for new commercial construction or major renovations because it eliminates doors with widened pathways and provides for one-way traffic.

Automatic doors lessen touching, other design elements include contact-less fixtures, which have long been widespread in some product types and stand to gain popularity in more facilities. Other design elements include large sink areas using non-porous surfaces with seamless construction and plenty of room to create a distance between users while washing hands, as well as the use of copper. Copper is an antimicrobial, and specifying accessible fixtures coated with antimicrobial coatings will hopefully be seen more often.

Other Public Restroom Best Practices Should Include:

  • Toilets with lids that close automatically before flushing.

  • Regular cleaning per CDC guidelines, or with 70% or more alcohol.

  • Cleaning requirements may also need to become regulated, as the health and safety of janitorial staff and other employees fall under strict OSHA guidelines.

Image Credit: 123rf.com / Marcel Derweduwen.

Hafsa Burt Leading the Post-COVID Charge to Make Buildings Healthier and Safer

"Though it seems like an odd place to discover design solutions for today's global public health challenges, existing high traffic areas such as airports may just provide a prescient blueprint for the A/E/C community at large to expand on," says Hafsa Burt, principal of San Francisco-based HB+A Architects.

San Francisco Architect Hafsa Burt. Image Credit: HBAarchitects.com.

"Many elements, such as sensor taps for water, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers in heavy traffic areas, these are common-sense best practices which predate the coronavirus pandemic, and it's long past time that we begin implementing them into more building types everywhere," added Burt.

FACT: Flushed Toilets Without Lids Can Spread Disease

In public restrooms, a common practice is to use WC's without lids. This can expose the user to toilet plume. More and more designers may opt to enclose the toilet in the floor to ceiling partitions and/or opt for toilets with lids that close automatically before flushing.

Furthermore, waterless urinals do not have urinal plumes.

Limiting Airborne Transmission

Cleaner indoor air and proper ventilation for airborne problems will include elimination or limitation of unfiltered air entering a space and further filtrating and recirculating indoor air in all project types and spaces.

High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filters Preferred

The Center for Disease Control suggests the coronavirus can spread indoors through the poor circulation of building ventilation systems.

Here are the recommended Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filter options available:

  • MERV 13 does have the ability to remove droplets and aerosols and is mandated in California.

  • MERV 16 does a little bit better than MERV 13 but doesn't offer a big difference.

  • MERV 16 is not the ideal case compared to HEPA filters.

  • Additionally, both MERV 16 and HEPA filters need a booster fan.

Image Credit: 123rf.com / Imagemax.

Tips on How to Eliminate or Limit Unfiltered Air Entering the Space

  • Turn off any fans that are bringing in unfiltered or insufficiently filtered air, including sidewall or central supply fans, ERV's or HRV's with less than MERV 13 filtration.

  • Ducted recirculating systems have to be checked for cleaning or replacement of filters.

  • Run ducted HVAC systems with central fans in AC or fan-only mode.

  • Discuss options with your mechanical consultant, and inquire about custom design HEPA filter boxes with booster fans, as well as providing UV lights at the supply ducts to kill viruses.

Long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, Burt hopes that design professionals will have succeeded in their push to make high traffic area design practices the norm for a majority of buildings.

"With global warming and the threats of diseases long gone resurfacing as a result of permafrost melting, one can only plan for future pandemics instead of being caught off-guard as in the case of COVID-19. Certain design practices are proven in high traffic areas and can be integrated into structures and facilities of all kinds," Burt concluded. "We just have to have the will to do it. It's the smart thing to do. It's the safe thing to do. And it's the right thing to do."

Burt was featured discussing these industry trends in the Q4 2020 issue of California Buildings News and has worked on Secure Connector and a couple of projects at San Francisco International Airport.

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