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From Covid-19 To Climate Change, The List Of Considerations In Building Design Just Keeps Getting Longer

Powers Brown Architecture principal AJ Breneman has plenty of experience adapting to an evolving market, beginning with navigating funding issues in the wake of the Great Recession 15 years ago.

But now, due to Covid-19, the rise of big data, and rapidly changing environmental and social climates, the market is shifting faster than it ever has. According to Breneman and a panel of other architects, the list of issues to consider when designing Houston real estate now has grown long indeed, encompassing climate change, Covid-19, flooding, supply delays, new amenity needs, technology and even meeting fatigue.

Clark Condon's Sheila Condon, PhiloWilke's Yong Gan, Perkins & Will's Mide Akinsade, HOK's Komal Kotwal, Powers Brown Architecture's AJ Breneman and Moderno Porcelain Works' Mike Boucher.

"How can we produce an office product that the market could support, just based on the different metrics that were out there, trying to get people into leasing and office space?" Breneman said at Bisnow's annual Architecture & Design Event, where Houston architects agreed wants and desires are changing fast — and so much data to help with building design is being created now that the biggest challenge lies in sifting through it and analyzing it.

"Our projects are becoming complex, our challenges are becoming complex. If we don't start collaborating from day one, then we're going to have challenges later on," Komal Kotwal, sustainable design leader for health, well-being and equity at HOK, said, adding that her company is bringing on very specific data consultants from all over the world to help create designs.

"Collaboration has really become the key in design," Kotwal said. "Balancing the beauty of collaboration with fatigue. I think that's a challenge that we have to deal with and address as well."

Core Office Interiors' Ryne Diaz, PGAL's Jeff Gerber, Page's Arturo Chavez, Gensler's Stephanie Burritt, Kirksey Architecture's Wes Good and Brave Architecture's Fernando Brave.

Amid shifting client priorities, Mide Akinsade, design director and principal with Perkins & Will, is also seeing ambiguity in architectural concepts like placemaking and creating public spaces that are centered around what people need or are created with community participation in mind.

"What created great placemaking in the '50s is probably not relevant today," Akinsade said. "Right now, we're seeing what I personally call a hybridization across all sectors, where hospitality is sort of infusing itself into corporate offices, into healthcare, into airport spaces."

Covid-19, he said, has shone a light on the blurred line between work and home, with fewer people having a separate work and living space. Akinsade wants to create spaces where everyone feels like the design is made for them, and everyone feels safe.

That sentiment was echoed by other speakers who say they are making healthcare facilities that are friendlier and creating building designs that are more environmentally conscious in the face of climate change, which Kotwal pointed out disproportionally affects minorities.

"We've realized that climate is not an environment issue, it is a people issue, it is affecting people all over the world, no matter where you are, who you are," Kotwal said. "I think that's the biggest change we've seen, as a practice that has always focused on sustainability in our DNA. Conserving is not going to get us where we need to be. … Generous design, is what we call it, is going to get us there."