Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Architectural Design for Quarantine
The HWS Update
architecture-covid-assignment-1

Architectural Design for Quarantine

As the HWS Art and Architecture Program adjusts to the new realities of remote learning, faculty and students are turning to the principles of design to address the challenges of social distancing and pandemic protocols and their effects on mobility and wellness.

Associate Professor Jeffrey Blankenship sums up the challenges of the moment in the main assignment to his studio course: “While this transition has seemed frantic and incredibly fast (along with confusing, distressing, stressful and scary), we are all being asked to slow down — stop moving around, stay put, keep separated. Innovative architecture has always responded to the historical and cultural moment.”

Blankenship’s students are each creating a simple structure to accommodate up to 15 people adhering to social distancing practices. Courtney Page ’22 envisioned an isolation and recovery space for essential personnel — like her father, a police officer — who are wary of potentially exposing their immediate family to COVID-19.

The pandemic, how it spreads and how it affects those who contract it, dictates the design, Page says, so she created a single-level structure with all amenities within arm’s reach — vital if the occupant begins exhibiting symptoms. Her portable small home concept also places a premium on materials, like copper, that minimize the risk of transmission.

In an introductory architecture course taught by Associate Professor Stan Mathews, a “Shelter in Place” assignment familiarizes new designers with architectural theory and challenges them to navigate the problems of quarantine that smart design can help solve. Mathews says that once equipped with “a good understanding of what makes a good quarantine space,” the class will begin the final phase of the project and “apply that knowledge to design a Martian habitat, where four people could live for one year.”

Lauren DeVaney's floorplan, tracking use of space during quarantine, in preparation for a more efficient redesign.

The floorplan of Lauren DeVaney ’23 tracks use of space during quarantine in preparation for a more efficient redesign.

Lauren DeVaney ’23 says that working through the iterations of the “Shelter in Place” assignment has been illuminating, as she measured and diagrammed her home, how the space is used and how well, and redesigned the layout to eliminate problems areas — a process that has “definitely challenged my understanding of space and design.”

The “immediate environments” theme of Associate Professor Gabriella D’Angelo’s architecture studio course has forced her class to “consider alternative opportunities and methods of designing that could engage our work to date while connecting more closely with our new immediate environments.”

Caroline Darcy '21

Caroline Darcy ’21 created a mobile dwelling with a connection to the outdoors. 

“Having constraints can push your work so much further,” notes Caroline Darcy ’21, whose mobile dwelling design for D’Angelo’s course emerges from the food and culture focus of the study abroad program in Rome, Italy, where each student began the semester. Darcy’s choice, an orange, led her to “create a dwelling that was very vibrant, fresh and clean with a connection to the outdoors” — but also, “given the current circumstances, one that could potentially serve as a place to stay safely for an extended period of time.”

With an emphasis on “resilient and flexible ways of living” and “mobility within a modest footprint,” D’Angelo notes that “each dwelling and design process is engaging with the physical, mental and emotional needs of the inhabitants in order to provide safe and healthy places to quarantine and live (something we have all become much more familiar with over this past month).”

Kaylee Holmes ’21 says that her project, inspired by the broccoli relative romanesco, has made clear that “everything you put into a house should be intentionally placed, with a necessary function.” At less than 450 square feet, the floating residence she designed has the necessary amenities for a 14-day quarantine, including green space, because “trying to keep people healthy is an important part of this project.”

“[This assignment has] helped me think about what’s important in a space and what you might not know is taking a toll,” adds Morgan Willis ’22. “The challenge of learning to adapt an idea to an environment has been really rewarding.”

Above: Morgan Willis’s artichoke-inspired mobile dwelling design for the “immediate environments” theme of Associate Professor Gabriella D’Angelo’s architecture studio.