Architecture Meets Epidemiology: Can We Design Buildings To Protect Against Pandemics?

Posted on 21 April 2020

Architects seek to design buildings to be as efficient and as safe as possible, whether it be from fires, floods or earthquakes. But what if we could design buildings that could minimise the transmission of diseases such as COVID-19, while encouraging the presence of beneficial microorganisms to support health? The Biology and the Build Environment (BIOBE) Centre at the University of Oregon believes that we can.

Microbial communities within buildings are more complex than one might expect, and a lack of exposure to microbes has been linked to diseases such as asthma and irritable bowel disease. The idea is that factors such as material selection, ventilation, and even indoor lighting and window placement could be used to encourage the growth of beneficial microbial ecosystems.

Dannemiller, K. (2019). Moving towards a Robust Definition for a “Healthy” Indoor Microbiome. Msystems4(3). doi: 10.1128/msystems.00074-19

Likewise, we could employ similar strategies to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. For example, viruses tend to persist for longer on stainless steel and plastic surfaces than on wood, as appears to be the case with the novel coronavirus. Dry air, meanwhile, allows fine particles to remain aerosolised for longer, increasing the risk of airborne transmission.

Based on their studies, BIOBE have put together a set of strategies that anyone can use to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission within their home, a video summary of which can be found here.


Buildings have their own microbiomes – we’re striving to make them healthy places: https://theconversation.com/buildings-have-their-own-microbiomes-were-striving-to-make-them-healthy-places-134975

Moving towards a Robust Definition for a “Healthy” Indoor Microbiome: DOI: 10.1128/mSystems.00074-19

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