Architects have been assisting businesses with their COVID-19 workplace concerns, but are vaccines creating optimism for an office return to normal?
While commercial property landlords and businesses that own and operate their own facilities have been busy this past year retrofitting workspaces to protect employees from contracting COVID-19, the promise of vaccines and the hope of a return to normal in the near future means design work has not drastically changed for architectural firms.
“Businesses seem to be happy thinking they are going to return back to normal at some point. Everyone is defaulting to the vaccines,” says George Kimmerle, founding president and partner of the Kimmerle Group, the Harding Township-based architectural firm which consists of Kimmerle Newman Architects, the Urban Studio, and Branding Studio.
Kimmerle says his firm is “incredibly busy.” However, recalling the first few months of the pandemic, he says, “Everyone thought the world was going to come to an end: It didn’t. People worked and adapted and continued to find ways to connect with one another.”
He explains that even during a pandemic, building leases (which come to term every 5, 7 or 10 years, depending on the contract) continue to turn, no matter what goes on in the economy. When that happens, architecture and design firms are called in to refurbish facilities. “So we are in this whole queue of work that repeats and repeats,” Kimmerle says.
William Kimmerle, George’s son and a principal at the firm, is involved in office planning work for clients throughout New Jersey and New York City. He comments that long-term lease outlooks, which normally take into account employment growth and space needs over a three-to-seven-year time frame, now are short 18-month outlooks, taking into consideration when workplaces will return to normal densities.
William Kimmerle’s concern is more with air systems than six-foot distancing measures. “Once you are in a space and the HVAC system is running, you are all in the same air, whether you are 6 feet or 12 feet away,” he says.
Meghan Barlotta, senior director of workspace at Kimmerle, says panel heights dividing workstations have increased to provide clients with more privacy and, hopefully, protection. She adds that more antimicrobial fabrics are being used. “We are also applying more wipeable fabrics to furniture, but we haven’t moved to solid-surface workplaces, which we all thought we were heading toward,” she says.
Full article here: https://njbmagazine.com/njb-news-now/architects-on-pandemic-designs/