Interior Design in a Pandemic

Interior designers routinely face specific challenges when designing for particular spaces, but when the concern is viral transmission, the stakes are high: even life or death. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that to lower the risk of infection from COVID-19, individuals “socially distance” – maintain at least six feet/2 meters apart. So rearranging many interior spaces to more safely facilitate in-person interaction has become vital.

“Our role in designing new and adapting existing interior environments will be essential as we begin to plan for healthy interior spaces,” said Marsha Cuddeback, director of the LSU School of Interior Design. “It is too soon to know the extent of the impact this pandemic has brought to bear on our interior environments, but we do know we must be ready for change.”

“It is too soon to know the extent of the impact of this pandemic, but we know we must be ready for change.”

Buildings, communities and organizations play a leading role in supporting our health and well-being, as well as our collective ability to prepare for and respond to global health challenges like the one we’re experiencing now, according to the Strategies From Well Building Standard to Support in the Fight Against COVID-19, by the Well Building Institute.

“The way we design interior environments, the materials and furnishings we specify, the arrangement of spaces to meet program requirements, and the spatial characteristics of our designs have a critical impact on health and wellbeing, productivity, comfort and satisfaction. Designers are responsible for creating interiors that improve the quality of our lives while protecting our natural environment.”

“We serve as agents for change, in part accomplished by understanding the interrelationship of people and the built and natural environments,” she said.

sketch of LSU Design Building courtyard

“A Place to Wait” by Amelia Hernandez Aleman, BID 2021. From tiny look book.

Interior designers will face many new challenges in a post COVID-19 environment. “We have learned a lot about how a pandemic impacts our lives and we are still learning,” Cuddeback said. “Designers will be challenged to foreground evidenced base design and rethink the theory of proxemics and the boundaries of personal and social space.”

In preparation for the return to in-person learning for the fall 2020 semester, interior design faculty worked on facility modifications to keep students, faculty, and staff safer on campus. It was an exercise in using interior design methods for improved healthcare outcomes – right at LSU.

“It made me realize how important interior design is now, more than ever before,” one BID candidate said.

Even prior to the pandemic, the School of Interior Design had a curricular emphasis on healthcare design that included interior design students working directly with local healthcare facilities to propose improvements. These design projects go beyond aesthetic considerations, critically examining hospital rooms and assessing functionality.

The pandemic has emphasized the critical need for intelligent design. “The pandemic is prompting and accelerating conversations about the importance of health considerations when designing interior spaces,” said Julie Elliott, interior design instructor, who has decades of experience in healthcare design.

The School of Interior Design curriculum also focuses on universal design, which has an emphasis on accessibility and inclusion throughout the design process.

ID 3777 Design for Health and Wellbeing introduces systems thinking as an approach to understanding how the interior environment impacts human health and wellbeing. Students examine the principles and practices of indoor environmental quality, including thermal comfort, acoustic control, and indoor air quality, and explore design theories and processes for improving the quality of life through design.

Jill Traylor

Jill Traylor

Interior design alumni are adapting to the fast-changing world, too. Health and safety is now a key part of the design planning conversation, said Jill Traylor (BID  1998), Director of Interiors at EskewDumezRipple design firm in New Orleans.

“Clients are looking to us for how they can alter their spaces in response to COVID-19 and the post-COVID world,” she said.

“It has involved a lot of research on our part into all aspects of interior environments including spacial layouts, circulation, furniture, materials, and air quality,” Traylor said. “Since information changes daily as more is learned about the virus, we have to stay on the pulse of best practices. I foresee some of these adaptations being the new standard in the future.”