A future of redesigned public, working spaces


Open office. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Social distancing is now the norm in every public space thanks to the highly contagious Covid-19.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that the virus could be here to stay, the possibility of social distancing remain with us for a while looks real.

On the basis of this eventuality, built environment experts now want public spaces and buildings redesigned to mitigate future pandemics known to thrive in dingy, congested and poorly planned spaces.

The experts said Kenya should learn from the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to changes in seating arrangements in vehicles, offices and limited public gatherings to a minimum of 15 people.

Architectural Association of Kenya(AAK) president Mugure Njendu said post-Covid, major changes must be made within private and public buildings to create spaces that enable people to observe social distancing to deter new Covid-19 infections.

“We need less desks within offices and workmates in large groups must be retained in same groups to help contact tracing in case of new infections,” she said, adding that movement within offices should be remodelled to accommodate separate entry and exit points to reduce regular interactions.

Companies and state agencies, Ms Njendu said must adopt a “hands-free” way of doing things from opening doors, water taps, soap dispensers and elevator buttons. She was speaking when they launched the fourth weeklong public sensitisation campaign, dubbed #JeUnaMjengo, on safe buildings.

Speaking at the same event, AAK’s Town Planners Chapter chair Juliet Rita called for a fresh examination of all public spaces from markets, bus stages and termini as well as public offices, health centres, educational and sports facilities to inform mitigation measures that enhance healthy living within urban areas.

The physical and transport planner said Kenyans must pro-actively protect public spaces from grabbers by keeping tabs on plans and proposals posted on county government websites.

“Interrogate the county spatial plans, county investment plans and most importantly the municipalities’ annual investment plans. Nairobians should know ‘the NIUPLAN’, the envisioned railway city among other plans like the back of your palms so that you can question development decisions that are contrary to these plans,” she said.

AAK’s honorary secretary Marylyn Musyimi called for increased investments in social public infrastructure to ease queues at watering points and reduce jostling for space along footpaths used by bodaboda operators as well as pedestrians.

“Dignified housing must provide well ventilated functional spaces with good lighting and built using an appropriate choice of material. They must be provided with clean running water, electricity, proper sanitation, green spaces, pedestrian and cyclist lanes on roads, schools, hospitals and religious and social spaces,” she said.

The AAK campaign that lasted five days called for closer engagements between professionals, regulatory authorities and investors to ensure quality properties that adhere to laid down rules are put up to avert demolitions and building collapsing due to poor workmanship.

Meanwhile, churches and mosques as well as public gatherings might witness a major shift in sitting arrangements leading to reduced audiences and mandatory temperature testing via auto-thermal cameras or handheld thermal guns.

Restaurants and retail chains are already taking steps towards making their spaces safe, having installed plexiglass in key service areas to minimise human contact while allowing operations to go on

Fast-food restaurant operator Simbisa Brands has opened a takeaway section at its latest outlet at a petrol station on Eastern bypass, Ruiru that incorporates Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn and Creamy Inn awaiting inspection and advises on the sitting arrangement on its first floor dining area.

Nairobi’s Naivas outlet on Moi Avenue has been controlling traffic to reduce crowding where shoppers line up outside the facility.

Most drugstores, money agents, retail shops and takeaway eateries have placed branded strapped encouraging customers to shop while standing about a metre away from the counter while service outlets have all their attendants equipped with masks.

Post-Covid, most facilities and public service vehicles will likely provide sanitisers as well as soap and water. Ms Njendu said future construction designs of buildings will have to incorporate larger spaces and more doors as well as new restroom designs to accommodate the social distancing rule, while buttonless elevators might become the norm with more people preferring to walk up and down the stairs.