Sensible social distancing solutions for Covid-19 recovery

Published 9 June, 2020 by Adele Kamel

Green Furniture is shifting public spaces away from Band-Aid solutions by offering design-driven social distancing measures that maintain safety without sacrificing community.

In these times of COVID-19, social distancing has become the topic on everyone’s mind. But with the current state of panic and uncertainty, public spaces are often resorting to awkward quick fixes that make people feel safe without much regard for long-term practicality. Patchwork solutions are popping up in public spaces all over the world, but they’re inadvertently bringing up uncomfortable and anxious feelings for everyone. Solutions like big X-marks between every third seat can separate families, making them sit unreasonably far from one another. Also, Plexiglas separators can bring up negative associations such as feelings of punishment or isolation. And while these solutions fulfill their function of separating people, it’s at the expense of the warm and inviting feeling that public spaces should have. The team at Green Furniture Concept took on the challenge of developing solutions using “sensible social distancing”. 

Seamless Nova C bench at liverpool street station

So, how can social distancing be approached more sensibly? Are there ways to maintain the important feeling of safety without sacrificing the element of warmth and togetherness in a public space? We don’t have to look far to realize the concept of sensible social distancing is out there already. People have proven themselves to be conscious enough to keep their distance in lineups at the grocery store or at the bank, for example.

But how does this translate into public space seating? A sensible solution would keep families together and encourage everyone’s civic consciousness. In order to make people feel at ease in public places again, we must design social distancing measures that can be integrated in a non-intrusive manner rather than the Band-Aid solutions we see today.

1. Sensible social distancing using signage

As we are slowly returning to public spaces such as offices, transport hubs, education centers, and shopping malls, the need to communicate is urgent. Using different kinds of signage is the easiest and quickest way to transform these areas into safe places and encourage following guidelines. A simple, clean and clear sign is the easiest way to communicate keeping a safe distance.

2. Sensible social distancing using planters and dividers

We have seen Plexiglas barriers coming up almost everywhere as a result of Covid-19. These create a transparent physical barrier and prevent people from getting too close*(Physical Barriers for COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control in Commercial Settings ). The problem with plexiglass dividers is that they have a cold and utilitarian appearance that subconsciously feeds fear and anxiety in society. A better-looking and more placemaking solution is to “divide” physical space with biophilic planters. Green Furniture’s seating lines are modular – consisting of building blocks such as benches, planters, privacy panels, armrests, etc. The ratio of benches to accessories can be adjusted as the needs of a space evolve over time. The planters fill their function from a safety point of view and, at the same time, offer the biophilic design needed to maintain a warm and peaceful environment.  In the future, if/when seating capacity is re-prioritized, clients have the flexibility to remove some or all of these planters and place them elsewhere in the building. Once removed from the seating configuration, the planters can serve to decorate other areas or even as a device to guide people’s flow.

3. Sensible social distancing by changing the rib colors

Another non-invasive and sensible way to implement social distancing is through pops of color. Our designers recommend incorporating a different colored rib at strategic intervals to highlight the recommended, safe and available places to sit. The smart thing about this solution is that the ribs can be unscrewed and rearranged at a later time with almost no effort. ​This low-cost solution would not disrupt the design of the space. On the contrary, it would maintain the inviting feeling a public space should have while loudly communicating the importance of distance and safety.

COVID-19 has shown that we are living in uncertain times all over the world. No one can predict the future but as designers, it’s our responsibility to avoid short-term, utilitarian solutions that put a Band-Aid on the problem. Instead, we must bring forth solutions that have the user experience at heart and prioritize placemaking, biophilic design principles. At Green Furniture Concept, sensible social distancing is the only way of making it feel pleasant to return to the public places we once attended frequently. With sensible social distancing, we can foster long-term safety for both the people and the planet – and that’s what we call “the green way”. 

Gina Fagone

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