The information below is meant to serve as a starting point in the conversation around holistic design solutions for building lobbies and entrances. If the design of building lobbies can more adequately control infection, preventing it from progressing beyond the lobby and making the space feel clean, then the building will be a healthier place in which to live, work, learn and heal.
Employee Well-Being: As we consider redesigning our existing spaces and plan for future projects, it is important to begin with understanding the WELL Building Standard. This building rating system is focused on how buildings can positively influence the health and well-being of people who work, live, learn and heal within them. Strategies that can be applied to existing and new lobby designs include: ventilation effectiveness and enhanced ventilation, operable windows, pollution infiltration management, air filtration, microbe and mold control, hand-washing efficiencies and enhanced daylight access.
FIVE AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
1. ENTRY VESTIBULES
The entry vestibule serves as the first point of contact as residents, employees and visitors enter a building. A vestibule can be viewed as an ‘anteroom,’ a program element often used in healthcare design, to provide a buffer between two rooms controlling air flow, movement and the passage of contaminants.
Entry vestibules are due for a reimaging given what we have experienced in the recent pandemic. From immediate changes such as determining if all people entering the building will use the same entrance or if a separate entrance for deliveries and guests is needed, to long-term solutions like designing larger vestibules that can transform into queuing space or screening space during times of need, there are different opportunities to improve upon design to keep employees healthy and happy.
2. LOBBY DESKS
The concept of a lobby desk exists in every place type. It is the place a guest goes to check-in, whether at a hospital, school, senior living facility, apartment building or office. Although desks may vary in function or design, all desks pose a risk of spreading germs through the touching of surfaces and proximity of people.
As we continue designing with the need for a lobby desk, there are other options to consider such as the use of a virtual assistant and the development of new guest protocol at the entry of buildings. Some clients may not have the need for an initial face-to-face interaction and thus a digital check-in procedure could be used in lieu of a lobby desk. Long-term strategies for clients who need a lobby desk may want to consider design strategies such as incorporating UV light sterilization, utilizing low-wall air returns and providing enclosed meeting rooms in the lobby.
3. SEATING AREAS
Nearly all built environments provide a seating area adjacent to the main entry. Depending on the place type, these areas can have their own unique look. One consistent factor in these spaces is that they provide a comfortable setting where people can engage and interact.
In trying to reduce the opportunity for germ spread, seating areas must be addressed. A simple way to keep spaces as sanitary as possible during a pandemic is to decrease the amount of existing furniture to support social distancing and help widen circulation paths. Other more permanent solutions could include providing flooring transitions such as rugs to indicate placement of separate groups. During the ideation of new ground-up projects, it will be beneficial to have a discussion about the possibility of designing these spaces with a certain amount of furniture flexibility that would allow the spaces to convert from meeting spaces to offices to queuing areas.
4. PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Public restrooms are one of the most prolific spots for the spread of germs. Under normal circumstances this is true, but when discussed at the scale of a world-wide pandemic this issue becomes exacerbated. Restrooms also present an interesting issue of balancing sustainability with a high level of sanitation.
The smallest changes in the public restroom setting can have a huge impact on reducing germ spread such as implementing hands-free door hardware. By eliminating a potential surface contaminator, we are reducing the opportunity for germ spread. Additionally, replacing existing fixtures with touch-less fixtures take away yet another surface for germs to spread. Long-term design solutions may include designing improved ventilation systems by incorporating the use of MERV-13 filters and considering the use of gender-neutral restrooms to eliminate uneven usage, crowding and wait time.
5. VERTICAL CIRCULATION
Arguably the most difficult concept to master during a pandemic is circulation. As creatures of habit, once a routine is learned it is difficult to change it.
How can building circulation be designed to decrease the spread of germs while maintaining efficient movement for building occupants? We propose a couple of ideas: promote the use of stairs and encourage occupants to use one stair for traveling up and a separate for traveling down. If two elevators are available, the same would be encouraged; one for traveling up and the other for traveling down. Programming the elevator doors to sit open while at rest is another design opportunity that could be implemented quickly. A long-term solution might consider the use of concierge style elevator call technology such as the viz mobile app or facial recognition allowing for touch-less elevator use.