Where is the lack of human interactions leading us in times of COVID-19?
If there is a term that has changed its meaning during COVID-19 is human interaction. Some will find that this term is more related to a physical approach which could be replaced by digital tools. Others will see, and finally out of this crisis, the intrinsic meaning of it and how the lack of connection in the physical space is affecting us in so many ways. During my thesis investigation at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (2018), I was intrigued about space and the human body. I called my research “The space moulded by the body”. To give you a quick background, as a professional of architecture, I understand clearly the effect the architectural space has on our behaviours. But deeper than this, and more than the psychological side, I was intrigued in the fact that these effects are not just one way around, they affect our relations with other human beings and at the same time returns some intangible results into our space. But what is the definition of space? Doing my research I found that after the Second World War ended, the human started to question not just the effects of the space towards them, but the other way around. Everything was destroyed, and the human was able to see the tangible result of their actions in their built environment. (Anthony Vidler cited by Buchannan, Lambert, 2005) Even though my research was mostly performative, during those times, I found two very interesting definitions of space: the intensive and extensive space. If you look into a simple definition of these terms, the extensive space is the one we can see, touch and is measurable or tangible. The intensive space, however, is the space of interactions, we are unable to see it tangible but happens in the “in-between” of our actions with others and the physical space. This is the space, which creates us as human beings and shapes our experiences and relations. What happens then, when we are unable to be present in the physical space? - or, when we have to keep a distance from each other? How will these experiences “mould” us? Which type of human beings will we be in the future? and what will this distance generate in our minds? On my thesis and research project, I tried to understand “intensive space” (Space of Interactions), using sensing body tracking technologies and visualizing it on a physical structure (Extensive space). It was an exercise of understanding the feedback loop of relations between us humans and the built environment. However, this was done in times where human proximity was taken for granted and possible. More than a year later of this research, which at that point had nothing to do with this pandemic situation, I ask myself as a professional of architecture and interaction, how could our professions interfere positively in the construction of a more integrated society in this crisis. Not by word, but really shaping it.
Is there a strong relationship between proximity and empathy? Will we still be able to be empathic with others while keeping distance? Will distance give more power to those stronger? What about the vulnerable, will these walls of power that already shaped our world, will just grow even more? and could we actually use technology as a resource to prevent these problems or mitigate them? The redefinition of architectural spaces combined with technology, taking into consideration the lack of physical interactions and an increased of the digital, needs to be towards a more humanized approach. The limitations of spacial interactions and our "intensive space", preventing health, is probably leading to a more broken and less generous world where the gaps that already existed between humans, are on a huge risk of becoming bigger physical barriers. Now is the time to stop just looking at COVID-19 as just as a health - economical issue but as an opportunity to visualize the voids that have always been in our society and now are just showing up with a stronger force.
In this sense, it's probably that the biggest virus that we'll have to fight against, is going to be magnified by previous inequalities plus the lack of meaningful human interactions. Let's see how do we use the tools that are already in our hands and create new ones to face it socially correctly.
Article by: Amanda Simo, MArch.
Image credits: www.rawpixel.com