Covid 19- Rethinking the Concepts of Architecture

Text By AK Jain

From being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies to having one of the world’s fastest-growing air traffic volumes, India has had its own challenges in the fascinating story of growth in aviation infrastructure in the country.

Covid-19 is once in a century pandemic. It has caused massive disruption to the economy and the livelihoods, especially of those living in slums. Their income sources have vanished, and the lockdown has been a cause of severe misery of women and children. This calls for revisiting the building design, construction and planning towards creating a healthy, resilient and anti-frugal environment. The spaces should be adequate to avoid transmission
of the pandemic and hygienic with proper environmental quality, ventilation, sun and thermal comfort.

According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 76th round (2018) 80% rural houses and 62% urban houses in India have one room or less. Around 75% of rural households and 40% of urban households do not have access to tap water, 45% of rural and 9% of urban households are without washrooms/latrines. This means that norms of social distancing, self-isolation and regular hand washing are difficult to be observed by most households.

It is estimated that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of 200 million
jobs of daily wagers. During the lockdown, from 25th March 2020 to 19th May 2020, 162 migrants died due to exhaustion and accidents. With public transport shut down, workers walked and cycled hundreds of kilometres or travelled in autos, trucks, and even concrete mixers.

This reminds of 1947 when about 20 million refugees crossed into partitioned India. The Government of India created the Ministry of Refugees (later Ministry of Rehabilitation) which provided immediate relief— food, shelter, medicines, water and sanitation facilities. Simultaneously, livelihoods— kiosks, shops, work sheds, small scale/household industries and homes were provided to the refugees. The refugees in Delhi were resettled in 36 rehabilitation colonies with about 70,000 plots of 60 to 80sq m, besides 15,000 shops. Similar approach is needed to rehabilitate migrant labours. They are valuable assets and builders of city and homes.

The Niti Aayog projects that per capita residential space in India will increase from 5.9sq m in 2012 to 35sq m in 2047. This means a drastic revision of spatial standards of the houses of poor along with an optimally compact and dense urban pattern. The shelter must be adequate, healthy and affordable, along with rental option as the poor can’t afford paying the EMI.

The location is most important for the livelihoods of the informal sector workers who cannot afford to lose time and money in commuting. As a principle, the distance between work and living should be below 15 minutes by public transport, cycle or walk that is 10km, 3km, and 1km respectively. In view of recent corona lockdown, it may be mandatory to provide at least half of the built space for work-life integration and mixed-land use. This will save the need to commute.

Sustainable and healthy environment manifests thermal comfort and air quality with buildings free from sick building syndrome (SBS) caused by microbial, allergy, toxins, dust and mites. The wall between work and life should be dismantled by composite and mixed-land use. According to the Covid-19 Guidelines for air-conditioning and ventilation, issued by the CPWD (22.4.2020) room temperature should be set at 240 to 300C, humidity of 40% to 70% with fresh air flow to inactivate aerosol droplet virus. As AC ducts are potential careers of virus and bacteria, the system should be self- cleansing and sensor controlled.

A K Jain worked as Commissioner (Planning) at Delhi Development Authority.