Across the Live-Work Divide

As homeowners and office workers adjust to the pandemic, the construction industry must change its game, too.

As we move forward into 2021 in a world that is not the same as it was in years past, it is a good time to look at the direction of architecture and green building. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge to families and businesses across the U.S. and around the world. Some industries may be forever changed. The pandemic is not resolved yet. 

new reality

Changes in health and safety now dictate where and how we live and work. Architects and builders have begun to rise to these new challenges. 

While it impacts various places differently, and affects businesses in different ways, the pandemic has had a considerable effect on the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and green building industries. 

Economic Changes 

As we all know, the pandemic has hampered the U.S. economy overall. Recent reports show that restaurants are among the most severely impacted businesses are among the most severely impacted, having to adapt to delivering meals or creating “streeteries” so customers can eat outside. Similarly, office building use has been significantly reduced and some office projects have been delayed. Major companies have already announced that their employees will continue to work from home well into 2021. 

Some economists see continued strength in the residential market for 2021 for additions, remodeling and new home construction. This positivity reflects the current trend toward making home environments more suitable for working while living with families. 

Lifestyle and Design Changes 

The pandemic shutdowns have created a significant increase in the number of people working at home and students studying at home. This has heightened awareness and interest in residential building and design solutions, compared to previous years. The increased interest may result in design changes and more use of technology to address limitations that the pandemic has caused—including changes in business practices, such as requiring employees to work remotely. Also, many people now have a significantly increased interest in health in the home. 

The increase in the use of online conferencing technologies for working and meeting from home is significant. It has become quite common for people in the building industry to meet with clients and business associates online to discuss projects. 

I recently had an informal conversation with a couple who want to build a new house. “We both are working at home now and we like it,” they said, “but we each need to have our own offices in our new home.” This is one example of how housing design will change due to the pandemic. 

Increased awareness of health as it relates to green building design has people concerned about air quality, allergies, outdoor air pollution and even technology. 

crowded house

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many employees and students to work and study from home for more than a year. Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

They’re asking, “What kind of air filtering systems are available for our new home to protect our health?” Or, “How can I make our home function well technologically, with adults working from home and our children studying at home?” 

From homes to public buildings, new designs are being considered and existing building layouts are being reconsidered. An example would be a firm that specializes in designing children’s museums. Architects would be studying how to reconfigure many of their existing projects, as well as how they would lay out new museums. A place like a children’s museum, where everyone has been encouraged to touch many things and push many buttons, must be reimagined and redesigned with visitors’ health and safety in mind. Such revisions must include separating exits from entrances so that visitors face reduced exposure to one another. Similar design issues are under consideration by builders and architects for all building types, from homes to offices. 

Technology Changes 

The awareness and use of technology in the AEC is definitely increasing. When I asked a client about getting site data for their project, they told me, “We can get someone to do a drone survey of the property if you like, and provide you with photos, video and topographic data.” I was pleased and impressed. 

During a Zoom call, another client gave me a cell phone tour of their current house and pointed out what they liked and didn’t like about it. This was possible thanks to technological advances unheard of a decade ago. And there was no need to drive to or from a meeting, because of the use of online conferencing technology. 

AI in the AEC 

The idea of using artificial intelligence (AI) may be new to many participants in the AEC and the green building industry. But AI will have far-reaching implications in the near term and in the future. I say this for two reasons. 

staying put

Changing work and living styles, with more people staying home, are leading to remodels of existing houses and rethinking of how to build new ones. 

First, it is already happening. In researching a talk I gave at a conference earlier this year, “AI in the AEC 2021,” I found numerous examples of AI already in use by innovative companies, in order to create more efficiencies and effectiveness in some very specific niche areas. I’ll include more information on this topic in subsequent Green Builder articles this year. 

Second, I say that AI will soon have far-reaching implications because it will come to us rather seamlessly on smartphones and in much of the software that we already use, from spreadsheets to remote site viewing. 

The topic of AI in the AEC has increasingly been included in recent industry conferences. I’m also seeing the beginning of major industry-wide initiatives in the AEC to connect the separate silos of software used across the AEC. The goal is to make it easier for the end-to-end transmission and use of data (both visual and text). Increases in efficiency will benefit those incorporating these advances, as they come along. 


Innovations such as drones are being used to acquire project data and send information to clients. Credit: Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

I am interested in AI that “assists us” in doing our jobs better and more efficiently. The AEC will become more of an AI-assisted industry, as many other industries have in recent decades. We will each experience increases in the efficiency of our own businesses. 

By no means has AI made inroads in every aspect of the AEC. But we’re beginning to see some significant “digital transformations” that incorporate AI, and which promise to increase the needed improvements and advances in efficiency and effectiveness throughout the AEC and the green building industry.