The Cure for COVID-19: A wake-up call for Architects to address the Climate Emergency

My sleep schedule, which is erratic in the best of times, has gone completely haywire since COVID-19 reached our shores. I’m spending nights staring at the ceiling, refreshing my social media every 30 seconds, and trying to decide what I can do with my days. Those that say I’m overreacting appear to be loving isolation and their time at home, but I on the other hand, am counting down the days until this lockdown is lifted.

Watching the news and seeing people’s reactions reveal that the world has truly been shaken. It seems like everyone has been sent to their rooms to think about what they have done. So, as we all sit in isolation, we should take this opportunity to look at what this pandemic has revealed to us.

As the streets turn silent the skies all of a sudden become clear, the fog of pollution lifts and reveals to us a ‘virus’ deadlier than COVID-19 – climate change. So why then is our response to this disaster different from the rapid response we’ve shown for COVID-19?

It’s been found that abusive economic behavior and ignorance[1]  worsen the effects of climate change, yet where is the combined human effort to counteract this? Human contact is the greatest threat to us in regard to COVID-19 which has resulted in mass lockdowns and strict isolation – we know that hard decisions and drastic measures can be taken to overcome adversities so why then is the Earth still heating?

India’s air quality improved drastically due to lockdown

Governments today see these as two separate issues, and as a result, want to deal with them in different ways. Because the effects of climate change are gradual the need to act now is pushed to the side as the world doesn’t feel its effects directly and at a personal level.

Various aspects of climate change are affecting the world at different speeds with some more subtle than the others, but nevertheless the threat is still there. With COVID-19, daily case and death updates are handed to us in headlines and notifications on our phone screens every morning. But climate change, which is arguably much deadlier with longer-lasting effects, is seemingly swept under the rug. Global temperatures rising even by a couple of degrees can easily lead to a series of natural disasters [2]. COVID-19 has proved that the people of the world have a remarkable capacity to put the brakes on everyday life when it is a direct and immediate affect to them personally. But it also reveals how a sudden change in human behavior for the better is a step in the right direction to combatting the climate crisis. In China, the serve lockdown measures have seen carbon dioxide drop by at least 25 percent and nitrogen dioxide by 37 percent[3]. If we look at Italy, the canals in Venice have become cleaner and clearer then they have ever been in 60 years[4]

Venice Canal Turns Crystal Clear During CoronaVirus Lockdown

Despite the less than ideal social conditions caused by COVID-19, the human response to these measures has been eye-opening. The actions and responses taken towards the virus reveal that society is more than capable of making major changes to the world when necessary. What then, is the role of an architect in all of this?

Perhaps, architects have more impact and power to evoke change then we think. This pandemic is a wakeup call for architects and designers to use their skills in fighting and recovering the Earth.

With climate change on our doorsteps, and COVID-19 already changing our daily lives, architects should take this time to imagine how they can use their skills to change a space and improve the built environment for disasters that strike now, and for the ones that strike without us even knowing.

Architecture has the potential to be so much more than just the built environment, what is architecture without the life people bring to it and the natural environment encompassing it. It’s a shell without these things, and designers should use it as a tool for change, we have seen drastic change is possible and architects can lay the foundation down to help heal and save the world for the next generation.



[1] McDuff, Phil. “Ending Climate Change Requires The End Of Capitalism. Have We Got The Stomach For It?”. The Guardian. Accessed April 20, 2020.

[2] Vince, Gaia. “The Heat Is On Over The Climate Crisis. Only Radical Measures Will Work”. The Guardian. Accessed April 20, 2020.

[3] “Earth Matters”. Accessed April 20, 2020. Earthobservatory.Nasa.Gov.

[4] “Venice Canals Run Clear, Dolphins Appear In Italy’s Waterways Amid Coronavirus Lockdown”. Accessed April 20, 2020. Classic FM.

Image References:

“The World’s Largest Coronavirus Lockdown Is Having A Dramatic Impact On Pollution In India”. Accessed April 20, 2020. CNN.

“Venice’s Canal Turn Crystal Clear During Coronavirus Quarantine”. Accessed 20 April, 2020. My Modern Met.