This week, we were kind of stuck in a holding pattern. While the total number of people getting infected, needing to be hospitalized, and dying from COVID-19 continues to increase each day, the peaks in the worst locations have passed and the hospitalization rates are generally trending downward. The federal government and the states, as well as the cities most directly hit, are starting to plan to reopen for business, even if they can’t all agree on how and when that should happen. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re certainly not there yet.
We’re stuck in a self-feeding loop of hope and fear. Hope that the situation is improving gets dashed by some detail from our scary shared reality. For all of the states that have reached their peak infection rate and are starting to come out the other side, there is another state where things are still getting worse. Medicines held up as panaceas turn out to be duds, or dangerous. (Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir antiviral looks like it might turn out to be the latest flop.) Just when the number of essential employees getting sick seems to be getting lower, another meat-packing plant closes due to an outbreak. Things could definitely be better—you could be stuck in a quaint Irish town with Matt Damon—but they could be worse too. This week was a strange one.
But while you're waiting for your state and city's plan of action this weekend, here are some of the things we've been following this week ...
Impact on Architecture and the Built Environment
Architecture firm billings dropped precipitously in March, with AIA’s Architecture Billings Index coming in “at a score of 33.3, a dramatic 20.1-point decrease from February’s score of 53.4,” lower than the score ever got during The Great Recession more than a decade ago. “The dramatic pullback in new and ongoing design projects reflects just how quickly and fundamentally business conditions have changed across the country and around the world in the last month,” says AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA. [ARCHITECT]
LEDucation 2020 has been canceled: The annual lighting trade show and conference was originally postponed from May to August. [ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING]
The first finished CURA pod (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments) by Carlo Ratti Associati, has been deployed to a hospital in Turin, Italy. The 20-foot-long biocontainment pods (plus an inflatable corridor to connect modules), made from repurposed shipping containers, are negative pressurized and open sourced. [CURA]
Milan has a plan to close 22 miles of streets to cars going forward and reserve them for cyclists and pedestrians, to create more room for citizens to continue to socially distance as the city reopens. [The Guardian] In the United States, Denver, Minneapolis, and Oakland have also closed some streets to car traffic during the crisis. While these streets are only scheduled to remain closed while stay-at-home orders are still in effect, these adjustments could lead to longer-term circulation changes in the future. [Archinect]
Italy is tentatively scheduled to begin reopening on May 3, but a group of furniture manufacturers are petitioning the government to let them restart their factories sooner. [The Architect's Newspaper]
Streamlining sprung from the Great Depression, and “smoothlining”—which “can impede the ability of dirt, bacteria, and viruses to gather on surfaces,” writes Aaron Betsky—might spring from the new recession and pandemic. That and cocooning—“not only as a phenomenon, but also as a form”—are likely to be permanent design adjustments for architecture going forward, he asserts. [ARCHITECT]
Building and Construction
According to the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, new home sales were down 15.4% in March. The National Association of Realtors reports that 74% of home sellers haven’t lowered their list price, expecting the market disruption to be temporary. Zillow reports that over the past couple of weeks, home sales decreases have leveled off and are beginning to slowly increase again. [BUILDER]
Senior editor Scott Sowers reports that Airbnb acquired $1 billion in new funding from Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners, $5 million of which will go to their Superhost Relief Fund that is helping hosts pay their rents and expenses during this time when they aren’t getting clients. Also, the company is looking to add “longer stays, which could eventually impact multifamily owners/operators and suppliers of student housing,” Sowers writes. [MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE]
Check out the latest episode in Hanley Wood’s #BuildersAreEssentials podcast, “How LBM Dealers Are Navigating Through the Coronavirus,” where ProSales editor-in-chief David Myron and Building Industry Partners managing partner and founder Matt Ogden talk about “The best ways to keep your employees and customers safe, how to preserve revenue during a stay-at-home order, and what to look for that could indicate an economic turnaround.” [HANLEY WOOD]
A survey from the Associated General Contractors of America, held between April 6 and 9, says that about 40% of contractors “have been forced to lay off employees. As a result of the financial burden, three-quarters of respondents report seeking Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to help mitigate the impact on their business.” [REMODELING]
Deputy editor Rebecca Robledo reports on the impact of the pool and spa industry in three states—New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—that have ceased construction during the pandemic. Pennsylvannia Governor Tom Wolf has now signed an executive order allowing construction to resume starting May 8. [POOL & SPA NEWS]
Other Notable Stories We’ve Been Reading
A group of 45 researchers organized by Harvard University have a released a road map for how to safely reopen the country and the economy, and it relies on heavy testing for the virus. In order for the plan to work, we would need to be doing 5 million tests per day by early June and ramping that up to 20 million tests per day by the middle of the summer, all of which would be tracked and traced by a huge group of 100,000 contract tracers. [MIT Technology Review] This is in line with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer’s plan to reopen the country, which relies on the capacity to do 25 million tests, or approximately 7% of the American population, each day. [Paul Romer]
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), will chair a new committee that will oversee and investigate the federal government's response to the coronavirus. [Axios]
I mentioned in this space in the past about how a shortage of painkillers could curtail hospitals’ ability to intubate patients and get them onto ventilators, but a new issue might be a shortage of catheters and tubes. [STAT]
To encourage people to continue to stay home and socially distance while the infection rate drops, a petition on Change.org is asking for streaming services to make their memberships and per-movie rentals free for the next 60 days. “If people can watch as much as they want,” the description reads, ”whenever they want, this will help alleviate the stress of home isolation, as well as encourage people to stay home. This is a responsible community health strategy.” Many software companies have already extended introductory rates and trial periods for their subscriptions during the crisis. [Change.org]
Hanley Wood publications are working together to track how state-by-state mandates are affecting the construction and building materials supplier industries. We’re updating the map and the data as they develop, so bookmark this page and check in often. [JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION]
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle, a research institute founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is tracking and projecting the spread and peak of COVID-19 through the United States in the coming months, as well as projected numbers of deaths in each state, as measured by needed hospital capacity. [IHME]
On the Way Out ...
Joining the campaign to outfit our health care workers and first responders with the protective gear they need is Fitz Frames, an online custom eyeglasses company that makes glasses for children. (Think Zenni for your kids.) Designed with input from doctors, nurses, and technicians, the Fitz Protect glasses are "available in both Rx and non-Rx, each frame is made-to-measure to fit the contours of the wearers face, providing enhanced coverage and droplet protection. And they’re comfortable enough to throughout a long shift." And, let's be honest, they're adorable (and come in white, navy blue, and hot pink).
The company's "goal is to provide Fitz Protect for free to as many frontline healthcare professionals as possible." To that end, they have a GoFundMe campaign where they are raising the money needed to cover the costs.
So stay safe out there everyone, keep washing your hands and wearing your masks, and we’ll see you here again next week.