Analysis

Covid-19 has made construction more innovative

4 August 2020

Alan Dowdall, associate at Ramboll UK, highlights the key role designers and construction professionals have to play in a world impacted by Covid-19. 

Although the Covid-19 crisis has had a huge impact on our global economy, as well as affecting many on a deeply personal level, there are still signs of positivity to take from the past few months. Throughout society people have been helping others in any way they can, from providing food for NHS workers to volunteering to help those more vulnerable in society, as people consider how their skills can be used to make a positive impact. 

Designers and construction professionals are certainly no exception to this, as they have been determined to use their skills to help society navigate the impact of the crisis as best they can. In fact, in many ways, their jobs are crucial to help us navigate our way through the Covid-19 crisis. Through their innovations, designed to adapt to a post-Covid-19 world that prioritises safety and social distancing, people throughout the UK will be able to live and work together once again.

Alan Dowdall, associate at Ramboll UK

Remarkably, we are already starting to see traces of these innovations, as exemplified by the Social Contact Pod project. Constructed from simple, low-cost glulam (CLT) panels (potentially surplus stock from house builds), this lightweight, rapidly constructed and sustainable portable building is a collective effort between Scott Brownrigg, Hoare Lea, Constructional Timber and Ramboll, and demonstrates a team of designers working together to offer a solution to some of the challenges faced by the more vulnerable members of our society as a result of the pandemic.

For while isolating from loved ones has been a matter of safety, having a physical connection with family and friends can be critical for one’s mental wellbeing. The ‘pod’ enables people to maintain a physical connection with loved ones without the risk of contamination by using a Perspex partition that separates the two groups; a flexible plastic membrane then allowing touch to take place. 

The pod can be easily transported on the back of a standard truck or pulled on a trailer, and can be installed at the entrance to a care home or dropped in a car park or garden for immediate use.

In terms of internal comfort, the pod has high levels of air quality and natural daylight, along with a comfortable temperature, acoustics, and access to fresh air. Each side of the partition incorporates a handle-less door, ventilation, a cleaning station with a sensor-operated sanitiser, and a flip up/down table.

To support communication, it also has a perforated acoustic metal ceiling with integrated speakers. Importantly, it has been designed to be fully sustainable so that pods can be repurposed or recycled with relative ease when they are, hopefully, no longer needed. With sustainability in mind, the Social Contact Pod is designed to be completely off-grid, powered by solar panels and battery, and constructed using sustainable cross-laminated timber.

There are many other innovations that are also exemplifying the way design solutions can help us through the pandemic. This is certainly the case at Ramboll, where we have been pooling resources in response to the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis in projects such as forming 20,000 PPE visors from office stationery, and building ‘Prevent infection’ training apps to help businesses in the transition back to the workplace.

It is this ability to use skillsets in wider applications that truly shows the importance of designers and construction professionals in this difficult time – a capacity that will take us through and beyond the Covid-19 crisis. 

More information on the Social Contact Pod available here: https://uk.ramboll.com/news/ruk/social-contact-pod.