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By Eric Caruncho, Philippine Daily Inquirer

What will “the new nor­mal” look like? The new coro­n­avirus dis­ease (COVID-19) will al­ter our world and the way we live in it in ways that we can only be­gin to com­pre­hend now.

Un­til an ef­fec­tive vac­cine is found or enough of us get in­fected that we de­velop herd im­mu­nity, most ex­perts be­lieve that so­cial dis­tanc­ing is here to stay.

That might sound like the end of our gar­ru­lous, out­go­ing, touchy-feely Filipino way of life as we em­brace work­ing from home, dis­tance learn­ing, on­line shop­ping and vir­tual ev­ery­thing.

Then again, sug­gests ar­chi­tect Royal Pineda, we can also choose to look at it as a golden op­por­tu­nity to fix what was wrong with the old nor­mal, through thought­ful de­sign.

The prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect and CEO of Budji+royal, pro­po­nents of mod­ern Filipino ar­chi­tec­ture best known for the New Clark City, among other high-pro­file projects, Pineda is also cochair of the De­sign Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil of the Philip­pines.

He and his firm are en­gaged in con­sul­ta­tions with the gov­ern­ment on “tran­si­tion ar­chi­tec­ture”—for­mu­lat­ing the de­sign guide­lines that will de­ter­mine what the new nor­mal will look like.

Work in progress

It’s a work in progress, he says. But it all hinges on good de­sign.

“Cre­at­ing new so­lu­tions to bet­ter liv­ing” is the mantra at Budji+royal. He points to New Clark City as ex­am­ple.

“We de­signed the build­ings for re­siliency and flex­i­bil­ity,” he says.

They were an­tic­i­pat­ing ty­phoons and other nat­u­ral calami­ties, but the de­sign flex­i­bil­ity built into the struc­tures al­lowed them to be adapted eas­ily to the pan­demic’s needs. Con­vert­ing the sta­dium into a quar­an­tine cen­ter, for in­stance, was done in record time.

Pineda points out that Aquat­ics and Ath­let­ics sta­dium in New Clark City has life­time an­tibac­te­rial toi­let fix­tures. These were in­stalled for the wel­fare of the ath­letes and the pub­lic for last year’s South­east Asian Games (SEA Games), but dur­ing COVID-19, these fea­tures made dis­in­fec­tion much sim­pler.

Mo­bil­ity is an­other area where good de­sign plays a crit­i­cal role.

Since crowded trains, buses and jeeps where peo­ple are sar­dined will no longer be an op­tion in the POST-COVID 19 world, there is need to find safe new ways to move large num­bers of Filipinos ev­ery day if our econ­omy is to be re­vived.

Edsa will re­main as the “spine” of Metro Manila, says Pineda, but in­stead of the al­ready over­loaded Metro Rail Tran­sit (MRT), one so­lu­tion might be the long-planned bus rapid tran­sit (BRT) sys­tem, with its ded­i­cated bus lanes. This will have to be mod­i­fied, says Pineda, to al­low so­cial dis­tanc­ing. For in­stance, the sta­tions can be sit­u­ated at cross­roads, so that pas­sen­gers can line up safely, rather than be­ing crowded to­gether in sta­tions.

Pedes­tri­an­iza­tion

The quar­an­tine has also demon­strated how ef­fi­cient bi­cy­cles can be a mode of trans­port, with front-line work­ers us­ing them for com­mute. A sys­tem of ded­i­cated bi­cy­cle lanes could form part of an in­te­grated trans­porta­tion sys­tem in the fu­ture, with well-thought out pro­vi­sions for park­ing and lock­ing.

Steps should be taken to make parts of the city more walk­a­ble, as well as bike­able.

Pedes­tri­an­iza­tion is an idea that has al­ready been tested at the Ayala Cen­ter and Boni­fa­cio Global City, says Pineda.

The dis­tance from Shaw Boule­vard to Or­ti­gas Av­enue, for in­stance, can eas­ily be walked, but as things stand, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble be­cause of the lack of side­walks, cross­ings and the num­ber of ob­sta­cles that pedes­tri­ans have to nav­i­gate.

A sys­tem of scaf­fold­ing, says Pineda, could be a cost­ef­fi­cient so­lu­tion to cre­at­ing a net­work of walk­ways, which will make the en­tire area more walk­a­ble, elim­i­nat­ing the need for pub­lic or pri­vate trans­port. This can be in­stalled out­side ex­ist­ing struc­tures, with min­i­mal mod­i­fi­ca­tions. With good de­sign, says Pineda, so­lu­tions to mo­bil­ity prob­lems need not be ex­pen­sive or re­quire huge in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing.

The way we use pub­lic spa­ces will also be fun­da­men­tally al­tered by the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing, he says.

Pineda says he ex­pects the “new nor­mal” to come in two dis­tinct phases: the first, af­ter the quar­an­tine is lifted, and the sec­ond, af­ter a vac­cine is dis­cov­ered or we de­velop herd im­mu­nity— which­ever comes first.

Any de­sign so­lu­tion, says Pineda, should take mod­ern Filipino sen­si­bil­ity and sen­si­tiv­ity into ac­count. Creativ­ity should al­low us to gain the space we need to com­ply with so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­quire­ments.

He calls this ap­proach “prac­ti­cal lux­ury.”

“Good de­sign need not be ex­pen­sive,” he says. “The lux­ury is in the de­sign. If you can make it pleas­ant and beau­ti­ful at the same time, why not?”

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