A Lesson in Perspective from COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, we have found ourselves in the midst of a unique opportunity. We have been forced to change our routines, and our days look very different than they used to. A change of perspective can be enlightening: when we move through the same routine every day, it is easy to keep on our blinders and focus only on the things along our own path.  When our routines are suddenly altered, however, we may discover and learn new things. This can be a difficult or even frightening process, so we rarely do it by choice.

Although this sudden and unwanted upheaval of our routines may be causing us fear or uncertainty in the present moment, I propose that we look at this experience as an opportunity. The change in our physical locations has naturally changed our perspectives on the world as well. We may no longer begin our mornings with our typical commute to join our coworkers in the office, but instead we work from our kitchen tables while our children home from school sit next to us.  While we are physically separated from others, we may spend more time thinking about them, imagining how their lives have changed and what they are doing while we are apart.

We constantly talk about when our lives will return to “normal,” but even when we are able to return to our old routines, let us remember what is was like to view the world from a different perspective. Let us come back with more compassion for others and a richer understanding of those living life from a different perspective from our own.  Across the nation, millions of people have lost their jobs, and hundreds of thousands have lost loved ones. The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly blurred the lines between “us” and “them.” During this national crisis, many stepped across the line to become “them” unexpectedly: the unemployed, the sick, or the grieving.  Living through a global crisis together has created huge challenges, but it has also encouraged patience, understanding, and compassion.

As architects, our new challenge is to take a deep look at what we have learned, and carry it forward into our work. Let us make this new perspective tangible in the way we speak to others, run our projects, and design our spaces. Let it affect what we choose to fight for or fight against, even for issues that do not affect our own life paths.  We will design better spaces if, throughout the design process, we are better able to consider the perspective of others.

How will a patient feel walking into a doctor’s office after COVID-19? How will the doctors and nurses feel? And how can the spaces we design either emphasize or alter those feelings? Can we help a person feel safe, appreciated, or supported by the experience of the built environment? Every person has been affected by this national crisis in different ways, and practicing the skill of viewing the world from different perspectives is critical to good design.

As children eventually return to schools, parents return to offices, and families return to churches, can we design these spaces in a way that helps soothes fears yet also foster the sense of connection that we have all been missing?  Technology has allowed us to remain connected despite physical distance; however, even with frequent communication, we may still feel we are lacking the quality of closeness when filtered through screens. At the very moment when we need the support of others most, we had to create physical distance for safety.  Can architects better design spaces which fulfill our innate need for connection with others while keeping us safe?

What makes a project successful? Beyond the technical details, program, function, structure, and budget, we must first and foremost meet the needs of the client to deliver a building which will serve its users. In exploring new and challenging perspectives, we may find that we have discovered intangible needs we hadn’t previously considered. Who will inhabit the space after we have finished our last site visit and stepped away? How do we want them to feel? As architects, our charge is not only to design beautiful spaces that keep out the elements, but also to make a patient feel comforted in a doctor’s office, a child feel excited to learn in a classroom, a guest feel welcomed at church, or even an architect feel inspired in their work space.

As we all sit in our homes, we should take a moment of introspection to evaluate how our own perspectives on the world have changed so that we do not so quickly forget once we are back at our desks.  When we reach the point where we can safely move about the world again, it will be imperative for architects to draw upon our collective experiences as we re-think the built environment.  We never design in a vacuum; any project is ultimately designed for the use of people from many different backgrounds.  In order to better understand diverse viewpoints and therefore design more successful spaces, let us more often practice stepping outside of our own routines.  A change of perspective can allow us to design with compassion and to help forge the authentic connections between people that we all are missing at this time.

About Marissa

Architect Marissa DiLoreto has contributed to a diverse portfolio of projects for LS3P’s Greenville office, focusing on faith-based designs including Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo, SC; Embark Church in Orangeburg, SC; and Gracelife Church and First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC.

Marissa, who joined LS3P in 2015, is a graduate of Clemson University with both a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (Magna Cum Laude) with a specialty in Digital Ecologies. Active in professional and community service, Marissa currently serves as Chair of ACE Mentor’s Upstate Affiliate and is a member of the Greenville Chamber in both the Young Professionals and Pacestters programs.