Business as Unusual: The Future of Workplace Design
Social distancing isn’t a term we imagined we’d be applying to landscape design—after all, we’re usually looking for ways to comfortably bring people together, whether in small groups or large ones. But with infection rates of the novel coronavirus still prevalent, and likely to be with us for many more months or years, the necessity of maintaining physical distance is on everyone’s minds. Fortunately, good socially distanced landscape design solutions naturally create niches and nooks that help people keep an appropriate distance while still enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, exercise, and many mental-health benefits that come with spending time outside.
According to the now-well-known guidelines from the CDC, the minimum safe social distancing space between people is 6 feet. This is because the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, either by droplets or aerosols.
Droplets are viral particles encased in globules of fluids like saliva and mucus. Larger ones fall faster, eventually ending up on floors and other surfaces—and if you touch these surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you can unwittingly create a pathway for the virus to your throat and lungs. Smaller globules tend to evaporate faster, leaving behind “dried-out viruses that linger in the air and drift farther afield” as aerosols.
Although aerosols linger both indoors and outdoors, when they’re carried on the air, they tend to disperse, scattering particles here and there, rather than in a large cloud or group. And whether droplet or aerosol, the virus degrades over time. While public-health experts don’t yet know exactly the concentration of viral particles that’s needed to infect a person, your chance of exposure is greatly decreased outside. And it’s much easier to keep a 6-foot distance from other people outdoors than it is inside.
Here’s where it gets tricky: those guidelines for 6-foot social distancing apply to people who are still, not those in motion. Normal exhalation produces fewer virus particles. But when we walk, run, bike, or otherwise exert ourselves, our breathing accelerates, and the volume of virus particles emitted into the air doubles. Scientists now believe the minimum safe distance for those who are exercising is more like 13 feet.
For a landscape design to best address current social distancing recommendations, it needs a few things:
Designs should allow people passing each other the ability to remain separated.
Select durable tables, stools, and other outdoor furniture that can withstand both the weather and frequent cleaning. For example, consider natural stone table tops such as granite, or table tops made from dense woods such as teak for dining tables and coffee tables. (Lucky for us all, the virus breaks down readily with standard soap and water.)
Chances are that if you’ve applied good basic design principles to your landscape project, you’ve already created the open spaces, nooks for solo or pair relaxation, and/or settings for small family groups to gather. Make sure your garden furniture and site furniture is cleaned regularly, and you’ll go a long way toward providing health-promoting spaces, at a time when we all need a little extra self-care and time out in nature.