Ontwerp voor afstand

Hoe ontwerpen we voor de publieke ruimte in het post duct-tape tijdperk

Het surrealistische decor van onze nieuwe realiteit - lege straten en winkels, afgeplakt met ducttape - zal voor altijd het iconische beeld van deze tijd zijn. In tijden van sociale afstand, nemen we de uitdaging aan om de openbare ruimte aan te passen om mensen op afstand te houden. Om sociale afstand te kunnen realiseren hebben overheden in een zeer hoog tempo veel verschillende regels ingevoerd. Als reactie daarop moesten gemeenten, winkels en particulieren snel met hacks en eenvoudige oplossingen komen om deze regelgeving mogelijk te maken. Net als zoveel andere dingen verandert deze periode volledig de manier waarop we de openbare ruimte ervaren.

Design for public space is traditionally very much about stimulating social interaction between people. When designers design public spaces they often challenge themselves to come up with new ways for people to engage with each other while being outside. Think about benches in public space designed for people to sit while facing one another, triggering them to chat. Or the many great examples of city squares designed to activate people to use the urban public space as a playground, no matter how old they are. In a way, pre-corona contemporary public space design often aims to design for proximity.

Duct tape for distance

For example, the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn allows people to shop only with a shopping cart or a basket, for the sake of minimizing their contact with other shoppers. A more general example is the use of duct tape in public areas in order to block certain spaces from being used by people. Many public places have been covered with bright duct tape, with the attempt to control the physical distance between people. Like an entire staircase in the heart of Singapore marked with yellow X shapes creating large spaces between people. The irony is, that with the call for people to stay at home, both the ‘X spaces’ and the open spaces are often left empty. The duct tape safe-distance marking has become almost an iconic decor of public life in this strange period.

There are even a few new Instagram pages documenting different forms of social distance in public spaces. Such as ‘Tape_Measures‘, an account dedicated entirely to being a visual record of safe-distancing markers found across Singapore. Another newly-formed Singapory Instagram page called ‘Antisocialsocialdistancingsg’ claims to “applaud the efforts in these strange times on our sunny island”.

Post-corona public space

These ‘Design for Distance’ efforts, as strange as they may feel, are also very intriguing. Especially for crowded urban environments wherein non-corona times city planners and engineers try to come up with solutions to ‘squeeze’ as many people as possible into major hot spots. Will something of these efforts remain when the epidemic has passed? Will we witness policymakers and city planners rethinking public spaces, taking into consideration epidemic periods where people have to keep a safe distance from one another?

The solutions mentioned above may not be very consciously designed but are nevertheless inspiring. Imagine future designs responding to the scenario of more frequent epidemic periods, changing the way our urban environments look like. Imagine tables and seatings including space for physical distance. Or sidewalks designed to embed a void. Think about benches in the park designed for sitting together apart. Imagine metro’s where people sit two meters apart from each other.

While thinking about practical considerations as a starting point for Design for Distance we should also take into consideration the social implications of such movement. Can design for social distance remain human and empathic? And how can designers help with keeping physical distance between people, while stimulating other forms of closeness?

By: Shay Raviv, social designer and design researcher.
Source: What Design Can Do

At What Design Can Do we believe in the power of design and creativity to transform society. Money, governments or science can’t solve complex global issues on their own. We need fresh ideas, alternative strategies and provocative thoughts.


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Header afbeelding: whatdesigncando

Icon afbeelding: whatdesigncando