NEXTGEN DIARIES: PAULA GONZALEZ

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I am currently based in Notting Hill and my experience of the current pandemic was a shock. How could I survive without human interaction, without attending all the networking and social events, or without seeing my friends for training or for a drink? It seemed like the end of the world!  Despite being morally affected and psychologically horrified by the daily news on Channel 4, knowing that many families and NHS workers are going through the toughest of times, I tried to quickly adapt to a new routine, trying to make the most of this confinement, learning new skills such as cooking (yes.. for real!), yoga, and dress making, but more importantly, thinking of the potential positive outcomes of this crisis: Can social distancing actually bring us together? Is eating self-prepared, locally-sourced and plastic-free food a healthier and more sustainable habit? Do we really need to commute every day to go work and add to the congestion problems of the city? How will this lockdown benefit our environment?   

My company, JRA, has responded to this crisis in an admirable and positive way. Not only by organising an efficient system based on a daily IT support (we have all the necessary tools to organise meetings and disrupt as little as possible the usual workload) but more importantly with an outstanding range of activities, such as morning interactive coffee sessions, Thursday night online quiz events, one to one chats with the office managers and weekly board meetings with our directors. Overall, it feels like this crisis has helped us get to know each other better and even share anecdotes about our personal life and families. JRA’s reaction to the crisis has ultimately allowed us to bond more than ever as a team! 

Workwise, as a global team, my project has noticed little difference. We are based in New York, Washington, Edinburgh, London and Poland, and since the beginning of the job we have found a perfect working balance where all teams meet online and everyone brings their best skills to the table.   The main difference I see is that I can no longer attend the site office at 22 Bishopsgate where my current Fit Out Project is being carried forward. This situation has made me realise to what extent we, architects, have both a theoretical and practical role in design. We can work for months on developing an idea, but ultimately, we have to be able to see and inspect the work in progress 

I think there will be two main streams of change as an outcome from this crisis.   Firstly, the short-term implications. How can the city reinvent itself during these months of confinement, help small businesses survive and continue to be a vibrant busy economic powerhouse? The City should be sending a message of hope and leadership to the world today, as it has always done in many other areas. Leading the way by reinventing its empty spaces for a greater purpose (public spaces becoming COVID19 test centres?)finding sensible financial solutions for both landlords and tenants who are struggling financially, keeping some activities open or accentuating them, such as planning applications for new buildingspublic art initiatives, monitoring clean air levels, and organising online conferences and events.   

On the long term, I believe the world will undertake a major shift. Most probably the way we work will change significantly. The 9 to 5 strict office hours will transition to a more flexible balance of working from home during some days of the week. Also, empty or underused office spaces will be reinvented in a more efficient and flexible way implementing new interesting shared and amenity spaces. On a policy level, I believe Covid-19 will trigger a new set of regulations for buildings where a simple lift button may become a health and safety hazard and technological responses such as facial recognition will soon become the rule. There are exciting times ahead for this era of new technological ‘seamless experiences’ from our living rooms to the weekly board meeting rooms. There is a bright future at the end of this tunnel, and we, the NextGen, will help this happen. 

Paula Gonzalez

Project Director at John Robertson Architects