New initiative to learn from COVID-19 and find new solutions for building and construction

31. May 2022

COVID-19 has forced different lifestyles and behaviours on society and people throughout the world. Realdania is earmarking DKK 50 mill. to investigate with researchers and innovation experts how the pandemic has impacted our behaviour and quality of life within the built environment, and to translate the findings into new solutions.

In just a very short time, COVID-19 mobilised governments, changed markets and not least changed the way people live. Work and time off under the same roof, distancing, and new routines for hygiene, shopping and meeting with others. The changes have had both negative and positive effects, and therefore they have been significant for the quality of life. 

In the RESPOND - a new framework for everyday life initiative, the philanthropic association Realdania wants to join with a number of partners to focus on how COVID-19 has impacted our behaviour with regard to the physical framework for our lives. The initiative will gather knowledge and solutions from the period under the pandemic, and in the years to come. The goal is also to inspire and launch new solutions for a more resilient built environment with a better quality of life for everyone. This could address the frameworks for health and movement, use of culture, working life, the home, and use of the public space.

“The corona crisis has caused significant changes in our behaviours and routines at home, at work, and in the urban space. In the long term, this will mean that we will have to reconsider how we live so that we can be together at work and in our free time while also ensuring that we avoid infection risks. This may entail greater use of outdoor workspaces or new ways to move around in buildings and cities,” said the CEO of Realdania, Jesper Nygård, and he continued:

"With this initiative, Realdania wants to provide a framework for research to investigate and understand where the pandemic has taken us with regard to how we use our physical environment. In contrast with seeing the changes in people’s day-to-day behaviour during the pandemic, seeing the impact on building and the built environment is a much slower process, and the consequences of COVID-19 will not become apparent until much later. For example, we probably have yet to see the full impact on working at the office and from home, and the consequences for how we allocate floorspace in the two areas.” 

Researchers to look at behaviour and the physical environment

A research team at BUILD at Aalborg University will be an important part of the initiative and will launch long-term monitoring research and documentation work on how COVID-19 has changed people’s lifestyles and habits in relation to the physical environment, and how this will develop over the coming years. 

The head of department at BUILD, Lars Pico Geerdsen, is heading the research work.

"We’ve seen before that dramatic events in society can leave a lasting mark on the way in we design and plan our cities and buildings. Historically, we’ve seen this after previous pandemics, and in more recent times following the threats of terrorism and rising water levels as a consequence of climate change. Similarly, COVID-19 has affected our daily lives and the physical space. In the research initiative we want to document these changes, and monitor over the coming years which changes endure and where life returns to the way it was. The project will also illustrate completely new issues in the wake of pandemic, and this will inspire new solutions,” said Lars Pico Geerdsen, and he added:

"Our ambition is to establish a solid foundation of knowledge for everyone working within construction and urban development. We will set our findings in a close-to-practice context so that solutions and knowledge can very quickly enrich each other. Therefore, we will also regularly communicate the results and invite stakeholders to work together on developing new solutions so that we are better equipped to tackle pandemics in the future."

Help to develop solutions

Solutions may have arisen during pandemic that can also help improve the quality of life in a post-pandemic context. Another goal is to support the development of new innovative solutions based on the knowledge generated by the research.

"Many of the solutions and ideas during COVID-19 came from a desperate need. We were forced to look at the world differently, and it is important to remember to gather ideas and to identify factors that affected our quality of life negatively. We want to encourage some of the ideas from the pandemic and support development of new innovative solutions in a collaboration between research and the business community,” said the CEO of Realdania, Jesper Nygård.

Focus of the initiative is on promoting new solutions, and in this area Realdania will draw on the experience the association has garnered from projects on innovation in indoor-climate solutions and in digital solutions for sustainable cities. The ambition is to engage professionals, citizens, students, researchers and small and large businesses during the process.

“We’re determined to learn something from the pandemic within Realdania’s field of work. This is a Build Back Better approach whereby we want society to come out of the pandemic more robust than before in terms of the physical environment for us all,” said Jesper Nygård about the initiative, which is provisionally planned to run up to 2026.