In the future home, form will follow infection

The home played a pivotal role in the recent global crisis.

Forced to double as office, school, gym, even restaurant, whether it felt safe or suffocating, it came under forensic examination, and for many was found wanting. And I do not mean in the decorative sense. Rather, Covid-19 clarified that the contemporary paradigm of the home, and crucially, how we live within it, must change if we are to survive the next inter-pandemic phase — learning to live with a virus in our midst.

After all, if we look to history, we can see that pandemics are not the exception in human history, they are the rule, so domestic adaptation is long overdue. For many, lockdown unleashed profound mental stress, and yet responses ranged from unduly romantic visions of a “great correction” to reactive catastrophising with homes as isolationist bunkers and the need for off-grid independence.

A more pragmatic way forward is required. Something achievable regardless of wealth, size of home, or whether they’re rented or owned. Not least because further waves of this virus are highly likely. Less a ‘new normal’ on the horizon then, than a new ‘counter-normal’.

Thankfully, I believe our homes can be a powerful weapon in the fight against contagion. And right now, as we lack a vaccine and immunity after infection is not proven, they might just be the most potent defence available. In the future home, form will follow infection. Herewith then 11 proposals for change:

Immunity boosting homes. 

Indoor air can be up to 10 times more contaminated than that outdoors due to the build-up of pollutants therein. Think paints off-gassing, toxins from common cleaning products, fumes from petroleum-wax based candles or adhesives in new carpets even before you factor in cigarette smoke, mould spores, bacteria and viruses.

It’s a lethal cocktail that’s responsible for some 99,000 annual deaths in Europe alone, according to the Royal College of Physicians. So, VOC-free paints and formaldehyde-free building materials must become standard and MDF should be banned.

Air and water filtration systems can be high-tech solutions but the minimum of a drinking water filter jug and plenty of leafy houseplants can also be highly effective. Plants are air-cleaning ninjas so effective even NASA commissioned research to prove it.

Layout determined by need, not history. 

Apparently 80 per cent of the homes we’ll be living in by 2050 have already been built. If this is the case, then existing layouts must be seen as suggestions, not absolutes. But it’s not about just moving or removing walls. For example, in a standard house, why are all bedrooms habitually placed upstairs? A smaller darker downstairs room might be better fit for purpose and a larger well-lit upstairs suite then released for living, rather than sleep.

Survival of the most adaptable. 

Indeed, in Japan, floor plans for new homes are seldom drawn with furniture in situ because rooms are intended to be multi-functional. Ample storage enables a single room to segue effortlessly from dining space to relaxation area or sleeping quarters, as required.