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Social Design to help bring us together post Covid-19

Brooklyn (New York) [USA], July 6: The pandemic has caused major shifts in the way we live, work and interact with one another. While Covid-19 has impacted nearly every sector of the economy, one of the worst-affected is the dining-in industry. In response to the new Covid-imposed limits faced by the restaurant industry in a post-pandemic world, Indian American Sanjana Paramhans and Pakistani American Neha Sadruddin recently came up with a new design that serves as an indoor fine dining restaurant.

The project, “Adaptive Boundaries,” won the first prize in the “Regen Dining Competition,” challenged designers to come up with a redesign, restructuring, reforming, or reorganization of an existing restaurant to accommodate post-Covid regulations. It imagines a near future where social interaction has evolved to adapt to a new normal of expanded personal boundaries and physical distance.  Paramhans, an alumnus of the Pratt Institute, is an aspiring social designer and currently pursuing MFA from the University of Arts London.

Due to the pandemic, fine dining restaurants have suffered significant losses as they struggle to serve the same level of hospitality and comfort while also ensuring the safety of their customers — not to mention the devastating loss of jobs and neighbourhood staple institutions. The design strives to retain the social aspect of dining in a public space and maintain the restaurants’ ambiance and quality of hospitality while providing flexibility and transparency in their typical operations. Fine dining spaces are a typology where users spend a significant amount of time outside their homes. Since they were one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic, Sanjana Paramhans surveyed to understand the apprehensions of customers when dining out and address these concerns to better equip restaurants to regain their customers’ trust.

Given that the past year has seen an emergence and re-emergence of Covid-19 globally, Sanjana Paramhans imagine the near future to continue seeing multiple resurgences of the virus such that social interaction will evolve to adapt to a new normal of expanded personal boundaries and physical distance. In addition, the periodic tightening and easing of Covid-19 regulations call for indoor dining spaces to be flexible in their accommodation and transparent in their operations.

To achieve this, Sanjana Paramhans designed a module of expandable, multi-layered, translucent screens to function as a partition and physical demarcation of the required distance between dining groups, as well as, to serve as a design feature within the restaurant. The translucency of acrylic panels provides a sufficient level of privacy and they can be flexed, along a ceiling-mounted track to accommodate the varying distance requirements, up to a maximum of six feet (the most stringent requirement by the Center for Disease Control). Indoor circulation is also informed by the positioning of these modules by clearly demarcating way-finding aisles for users to navigate through space.

Additionally, to address the increase in pick-up and delivery from restaurants, the design attempts to streamline this service by designating a portion of the space for it near the entrance. The challenge of making a space adaptive called for modularity. Sanjana imagined these panels to not only be scalable but also be customizable, and hence, compatible with the restaurants’ original design and character

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According to Sanjana, architecture has a massive impact on our social construct, especially in the times we are currently living. The rapid spread of Covid-19 has prompted many in the design community to reconsider their lives’ work and what it means to design for a world that will never be the same, particularly when it comes to how we meet in and use wide public spaces. For instance, when cholera ravaged New York City in the summer of 1832, it took the lives of 3,500 people in just a few weeks. The epidemic was blamed on dirty streets. Although cholera claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world, the disease’s aftermath resulted in discoveries in public sanitation and urban design interventions with a lasting impact on the built environment we live in today.

According to Sanjana innovation and design can be used to solve some of the most trivial, as well as life and death problems of the world. Designing for social change isn’t just about making beautiful items for a charitable cause, or selling fun merchandise and contributing a part of the proceeds to charity. In its purest form, designing for social impact involves imagining the impact you want to and can have on a group or a community through their built environment. For example, substandard housing, excessive noise, a lack of natural light in homes, poorer physical quality in urban neighbourhoods, and other factors have all been related to increased physiological and psychological stress.

Although, sadly, despite this evidence, there remains a disconnect between building designers and building users in modern urban societies, which could intensify the issue. Design stimulates people to behave a function a certain way — it can condition and control their actions and reactions. The design is not just pretty lights and wallpapers; it is an enabler of social change.