The collateral impact of the pandemic can result in profound change in how we approach design, but according to Andrew Shaw, Managing Partner at Dubai-based design studio AMA and the Chair of RIBA Gulf, we need to ask the right questions.

After many years in the design industry, what I have found is that no matter how great a design solution may be – be it a building, an urban plan or a product – there is only so much it can do on its own. To address the real issues people are facing mandates the engagement of all the industry stakeholders and the communities. People need to work together more often and more productively, and that is the most commendable quality we have been witnessing over the last few weeks. 

In the design industry, we see some great examples: studios KPF and Handel Architects have joined an open-source project to print face shields, Foster + Partners decided to design an alternative face shield that can be laser cut, automotive brands are reorganizing to build ventilators, fashion houses are pivoting to supply hand sanitisers and others are helping by staying home as the situation demands.

It is not the first global crisis and it will not be the last. The disruption each crisis brings also makes room for positive change. How we emerge from it, and how we apply what we are learning and experiencing to our projects is what really matters.

Now that we have lost our public spaces (albeit for a short period), will we cherish them more after? For cities that are lacking in genuine, quality public gathering areas will there be a greater investment in community spaces from the public and private sectors? 

Having lost our ability to physically connect with others - will we cherish moments of coming together more? How can we create and grow genuine communities? As we all face this unprecedented threat that requires collective and individual action, will we appreciate others more, and be more patient, tolerant and kind? 

Having seen most of the world act together to face a common threat – can we do the same to address climate change? As the architect, Bjarke Ingels recently said: "If we can change the climate of the world by accident, imagine what we can achieve by trying" 

Can we make housing and energy so abundant and affordable that most people won’t need to worry about paying their rent and bills?

When you design, you are ultimately crafting an experience.  What kind of experiences do we as the region’s A&D community really want? We need to think more about resilience as a design consideration.

How can we designers help clients to make the decisions to spend their money on projects that will benefit them AND the community? As architects, engineers and designers we can certainly guide our clients towards meaningful decision-making; that will require us to ask the right questions ourselves and then educate our clients by demonstrating how progressive thinking can create the most value from more people.

Will digital technology take us even further now and answer most of these questions? 

This is a turning point. I am hopeful about seeing the answers to these questions and the rigor of the search needed to find them.


To find out more about AMA,  click here.