In the context of the COVID-19, this article reveals the potential of architecture and urbanism in the prevention and control of epidemics and in playing an active role in human health. The historical approach shows that the same space-controlled measures against pandemics were used for centuries to combat leper or plague: quarantine, isolation and confinement. The fight against tuberculosis led, from the 1830s, to the hygiene movement which facilitated current principles for a healthy architecture regarding sunlight and ventilation. In the 1920s, hygienic concepts constituted the foundation for modernist architecture and urbanism. With the advent of antibiotics, in the 1940s, medicine was emancipated from architecture. In the 1970s, the criticism of the social modernist shortcoming led to the New Urbanism or Urban Village movements and environmental issues to Green Architecture and Urbanism.
The paper investigates how the present pandemic confirms the last decades warnings and the previous concerns about the correspondence between population density and mortality rates. The article examines the linkages between scale in the built environment, epidemiology and proxemics. The goal is to determine the place of architecture and urbanism in social resilience management during pandemics.
Solutions for health engaged architecture and urbanism are indicated at different scales: object scale—hygiene; people scale—distancing and isolation; interior spaces—air control by ventilation, filtering and humidifying; residential—intermediate housing, public spaces between buildings—the key for social interactions; working—telecommuting, size and dispersion; shopping—proximity and downscaling; transportation—walking, bicycling, shared mobility and robo-taxies; and higher scale-mixed use neighborhoods.
Architectural certifications such as BREAM and LEED may need to implement similar guidelines for public health. Healthy building movements like Fitwel and WELL Building Standard have already taken steps to foster healthy urbanism, and LEED for Neighborhood Development addresses health related issues. In the context of the COVID-19 and the concern of future pandemics, research in these areas will need to be expanded.