How has the pandemic changed our view of outdoor space and outdoor structures?

Mar 4, 2021 | Blog

In a time when we are all locked down, again, we have never valued our outdoor spaces more

At the start of the pandemic, the world slowed down and suddenly noticed what was outside. Being part of a community, and being able to commune outside took on a huge significance for all of us.

Past pandemics have reshaped cities in dramatic ways. Cholera and smallpox led to the creation of wide boulevards, new sewers and more spacious living quarters. I think that this pandemic will and is having the same effect on our urban environments. Once we are able to meet and interact again, we’ll all be anxious to congregate but also make more of open spaces and ensure that they are functional and future proof.

“We’ll need to think more carefully about how to keep these spaces safe in emergencies.” Los Angeles Times

Architects, urban planners, city officials and developers are now working out how to respond and how to reimagine our urban environment in the wake of this pandemic. Here’s what we think will happen with our urban environments.

Fusing indoor and outdoor spaces

Our outdoor spaces, our public space have become more important than ever before. Our parks, our balconies, the pavement outside our front doors, our streets and benches have taken on new significance in the wake of the pandemic.

“We will need to transform the link between indoors and outdoors, to reshape streets as the prolongation of indoor areas,” Carlos Moreno

With more of us working from home and restrictions on movement, we realise the importance of access to quality and functional outdoor space accessible within walking distance from home. We have re-evaluated our pedestrian spaces and facilities in-between buildings, in parks, on the streets and found them sadly lacking. We all now realise the value of safe open spaces to congregate and meet or eat.

The engineering firm Arup recently came up with the idea of ‘parklets’- green spaces on shopping streets and in parking spaces for a new Liverpool Without Walls. Fusing indoor and outdoor may be the solution to making our city centres part of the outdoor environment and enable businesses to function in adaptable spaces.

Car-free spaces for social interaction

Lots of designers around the world have been rethinking the dominance of the car in city centres. There are even plans to transform central London into a car-free zone. Slow streets or ‘corona cycleways’ have appeared across major cities as travel restrictions kept cars out of the cities. The dramatic drop in air pollution during the first lockdown has helped garner support for car-free cities.

We definitely need to move away from auto-centric spaces. We need to think more about exterior design and outdoor furniture and how that facilitates safe communal interactions.

Pivoting planning from smart to safe cities

It is no longer about smart cities, but safe ones. With shops closed, we have had a greater focus on how we use town squares for more than just shopping. We now see the importance of hygiene facilities and space to move, not just accessibility to shops.

Rethinking the corporate city

As companies move out of the city or towards home working, our city business hubs will need to be rethought and redesigned. We will need to look at transforming how we use those spaces, how we design seating, create ‘streateries’ and furnish these areas or create installations to support socialising.

“The subsequent success of in-street dining in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco reveal new possibilities hidden within urban lanes that could outlast the pandemic and serve cities in their rebirth.” Janette Sadik-Kahn

Will words like congestion, rush hour, packed-out, and commuting become a thing of the past? All of our social spaces need a total rethink.

Adapting our street furniture

Never before has our outdoor street furniture played such an important part of our everyday lives. Planters, pergolas, bollards, walkways between residential spaces and communal facilities, benches, play areas all have the potential to make our outdoor space more functional and future proof in a post-pandemic world.

Our outdoor space needs to offer more. It needs to take into consideration how it integrates with surrounding architecture and landscape as well as considering safety, function and form. We specialise in creating value-engineered designs to elevate public spaces and enrich communal spaces. Even though this pandemic has been devastating, it has given everyone hope that we can redesign our futures and our spaces for the better.

What do you see as the future of our urban spaces? What would you like to see?


Urban Concepts are a company based in North West England, specialising in bespoke design and build of hard wood and steel-based products for urban spaces, utilising a spirit of innovation and customer centric approach. The Urban Concepts team have been designing and manufacturing the simplest to the most intricately designed features, structures & street furniture for over 30 years.