Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL
Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL

You can tell by the low traffic volumes on Johannesburg’s arterial roads at peak hours that people are not in a hurry to get back to their offices. And you can’t blame them.

The new glassy structures of Sandton and Rosebank are sealed containers; you can’t open a window for fresh air. Everyone is breathing the same air, which is supplied by central air conditioning. If a virus gets into the system it can circulate rapidly and it would be very difficult to get it out.

For the past few decades the mantra for office design has been “open plan”. This arrangement has people sitting close to each other without dividing walls. It has brought down the area on an office floor from 20m² per person to 10m² or less. However, the coronavirus and its stepchild, social-distancing, have turned open plan on its head and left us with the problem of how to design office buildings in future.

The future of the stand-alone office building is in doubt. More likely is office space as part of a mixed-use development, including residential, retail and fitness. Also, there is likely to be less demand for office space in future given that a percentage of workers will now be working permanently from home.

Sectional title office units with direct entrances from outside and with their own air-handling systems are likely to be preferred. Also, offices situated in office parks where buildings are separated from each other by landscaping. Buildings with windows and sliding doors that open to the outside and to fresh air.

Ivan Schlapobersky, Via e-mail

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