Architecture Interiors & Design

Changing Spaces: 3 Architects on How COVID-19 is Reshaping Their Designs

The current health crisis has impacted every part of our lives, including how we use our homes—we asked three well-known architects to share how they’d adapt their spaces to suit a post-pandemic world

Architects often use their own houses as a representation of their design principles, but do they stand by them after being home-bound for an extended period of time? To find out, Luxury Defined asked three top architects how they’d reapproach their home design with the demands of the health crisis in mind.

Making it Even More Sturdy and Sustainable

Jim Olson is the founding principal of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, whose work was recently celebrated in Jim Olson: Building, Nature, Art (Thames & Hudson, 2018). He built Longbranch Cabin (pictured in the banner image above), in Washington state, when he was 18 and has been working on it ever since.

Did the pandemic affect your relationship with your home?
Yes, being here all day, every day has allowed me to form a more intimate relationship with our property. Our house is about looking out, and lockdown gave us the chance to do that quite intensely. We were able to watch spring unfold minute by minute for the first time. The time was a gift, a silver lining to the tragic pandemic.

A cantlivered balcony stretches out over the forest at Longbranch Cabin
“I’ve spent my life trying to create a meaningful sense of home and architecture that is in harmony with nature,” Olson says—a feat this lookout point at Longbranch certainly achieves. Image: Aaron Straight

Has the health crisis made you rethink your home design?
Mostly, I’d approach it in the same way, but I do wish I had made my home even more sturdy and sustainable. A house is an extension of your body. In today’s world it also needs to be armor—safe and secure. Experiencing windstorms, forest fires, torrential rain caused by global warming, and now a pandemic, makes us more aware of the protective role our homes play.

With thoughtful design, your home can evolve to meet your changing needs throughout your life—Jim Olson

How did your home hold up as a multiuse space during the pandemic?
I love Longbranch and have always spent a lot of time in it. So, when designing its fifth, most recent addition—before the pandemic—I started to think about working from home more. I created a separate space from the rest of the house that could be used flexibly: as a self-contained guest house, a caregiver’s apartment, which would ensure we could age here, and a home office.

I love my work and my creative life remains active, so I incorporated a desk that looks like a dining table, installed telephones that are part of Olson Kundig’s office system, and got set up for online meetings. I’ve used the office every day since lockdown—all while gazing out at trees and water, deer, squirrels, and rabbits.

The home design at Longbranch includes views from every room of the house
In a home “made for looking out,” each room—including the home office installed in Longbranch’s most recent addition—has uninterrupted views of the surrounding forest and wildlife. Image: Kevin Scott

 Creating a Dedicated Office Space

Paul White is a founding director of Buckley Gray Yeoman, an award-winning practice that is currently working on Cromwell Place, a new global arts space due to open in South Kensington, London, later this year. He lives in West London, in a house he’s been restoring since 2012.

Your home is still a work in progress. Has the pandemic given you cause to rethink your plans?
Yes! We’re in the final phase of the restoration and, until COVID-19, had never really considered having a space that we would fully dedicate to work. Before this, our house was home, and the office was work; obviously there were days when the two would overlap, but they weren’t the norm. That situation has changed: everyone who’s had to work from home during lockdown will have had little choice but to blur the two. The pandemic made me realize I need a designated workspace that can function as extension of the office, and also as a studio cum gallery.

Design needs to be multiuse but not confused, each space has to be focused and clear in its purpose—Paul White

The kitchen of Paul White's London home
Before the pandemic, White acknowledges that makeshift workspaces were often his norm, with this kitchen table in his newly renovated home acting as a stand-in office. Now, he believes each room needs a clear purpose.

Did lockdown affect your relationship with your home?
It’s made me appreciate how much harder our homes need to work. Of course, they are still a refuge, a place of privacy and intimacy, but now they have to be able to perform other functions, too. I’ve had to pitch and present to clients from my home, so in those instances, I’ve had to view it as something that is able to represent my firm’s brand, rather than my own personal tastes.

Do you think your future designs will adapt to create spaces where we can work and play, and that take us from the cradle to the grave?
I think it’s cemented the way we work at Buckley Gray Yeoman. Our ethos has always been about refining, redefining, enhancing, and adapting, and the pandemic has demonstrated so clearly the importance of those principles, not only in architecture but in all aspects of life.

We now have to think and behave differently, and so do the spaces we occupy, be they for work or relaxation. Design needs to be robust. It has to be multiuse but not confused—each space has to be focused and clear in its purpose.

The sitting room in White's London home
White has adapted this sitting room by creating a stylish space that’s comfortable, while also fit for purpose professionally and able to represent his firm.

Adding a Yoga Studio and a Curated Space for Video Conferencing

Ed Ng is the principal of AB Concept, an interior design and architecture studio he cofounded with partner Terence Ngan. Recent projects include Lalique’s flagship store in Shanghai, and the Paper Moon Giardino restaurant in Milan. He and Ngan are in the second phase of development on the home they share in Karuizawa, Japan.

When you designed your home, was your intention to create a space you could use as an office for extended periods of time?
No. This was very much going to be a home, so although we knew we would invariably end up doing some work from here, we didn’t anticipate needing to do presentations and hold meetings with global hotel clients such as Four Seasons.

Luckily, we are still very much in the design phase, so COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to pause and rethink. We put so much thought into creating the perfect home space, but hadn’t factored in a fully functional office with the right conditions for showing architectural plans and the like.

The home of Ed Ng and Terence Ngan in the forest of in Karuizawa, Japan
“It’s the modern way to be always connected and always in touch with the office,” say Ng, “but we had designed this building as a home first and foremost, and didn’t anticipate needing a dedicated space to liaise with clients.”

How has COVID-19 affected your relationship with your home?
We’ve realized a home now needs to meet all our needs, so we’ve adapted our original plans to include a yoga studio, a space curated for video conferencing, and we will invest in “task” furniture for work.

How do you think your future designs will adapt to a post-pandemic world?
Flexibility has been one of the defining phrases of the millennium, and this has touched every aspect of life, including how we work and live. The homes we design in future will need to be flexible to accommodate these changes.

Banner image: Jim Olson’s Longbranch Cabin. Kevin Scott