Will the Pandemic Change the Face of Guelph Structure Ceaselessly?

In just a decade, the architecture and design bureau Omgivning (Swedish for “environment or ambience” according to the company’s website) has shaped around 400 buildings in LA. The Globe Theater, Exchange LA, and Hollywood Lofts are just a few of the projects the adaptive recycling specialists have been working on. As the pandemic and billable work wore off, the company started thinking about what would come next for Guelph.

Karin Liljegren founded Omgivning during the last recession. “I was pretty aware that during development or difficult times the developer community tends to take a break,” she said on a video call, adding that many will ask, “What are we going to do next?”

However, this is not a typical recession. It’s not just about how people live when they have money back. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on inequality in Guelph. “We are in a health crisis. We are in a climate crisis and a crisis of racial justice, ”says Liljegren. How do you redesign a sustainable city against this background?

Omgivning responded to this moment with “Reimagining Spaces: A Post-Pandemic Design Report”. The report is divided into three parts, two of which have already been published. It provides details on design solutions for the workplace. “Reprogramming the city” including new uses for commercial and industrial real estate; and apartment building. The apartment building section will be released on September 15th.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on inequality in Guelph.

There are four themes that define the report. One is “people-centered design,” which includes ideas for creating group and private spaces, incorporating elements of nature into the environment and, more generally, creating spaces that are both useful and comfortable.

The second is flexible design. “We have to be able to change things over time,” says Liljegren. “As we go through a recession, as we go through our day, things must be able to change. The more they can change, the more accessible they become. “

In addition, the Omgivning team is looking for “mixed use” or rooms that can serve a variety of functions, as well as ways to cut costs for those who own or rent the rooms. The issues, says Liljegren, were part of the company’s work before the pandemic. But she adds that there is “a new sense of urgency”.

“At the beginning, a lot of people said we needed more space because we now have to be three feet apart,” says Liljegren. “I thought it was very myopic.”

Instead, Liljegren is of the opinion that it doesn’t depend on the size of the room, but on how many uses it can handle. That means thinking about ideas like “pods” in offices that can be reconfigured for different purposes to maximize smaller spaces, as well as designs that allow multiple companies to share larger spaces. This can help companies cut overhead and hopefully save more jobs.

“We need to think about that flexibility and then be resilient when there is another pandemic or another natural disaster or another recession,” she says.

Other ideas include converting empty shopping centers into apartments. “Obviously, reusing buildings is a big part of sustainability,” she says. And Guelph has many malls, including many that have lost tenants. “It really is an ideal type of building to become living space,” she says.

Omgivnings Big Box Concept for Retail

Courtesy Environments

Apartment buildings need to be reconsidered for longer periods of time spent at home in an increasingly dense city. “We have to densify our cities further,” she says. “To condense it, we have to offer everyone a humanizing experience.” This can mean adding more green spaces, urban farming areas and work spaces.

While Liljegren often keeps clients in mind when developing ideas, these reports have a wider reach. Perhaps they can affect other designers or people in town who can affect policy changes. The reports let people know that now is the time to work for a more sustainable city, and design can help with that.

Liljegren is optimistic about the future. “I think there is no doubt that we will come out better than before,” she says. Better in this case means designing urban environments that take into account the needs of everyone, not just the rich.

“It has to change,” she says. “It can’t stay the way it was.”

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