Homes and schools anticovid

Please find here a loose translation of this video into English.

0:00 Can you see these kids? They are in class in 1932 in Paris. These in Birmingham, Amsterdam and Berlin. All the buildings have big windows or foldable walls. They are the famous Open Air Schools. Also called in the time schools Antituberculosis. Schools designed to prevent and fight against the pandemic that had been affecting many big cities during the XIXth century. In Paris it was the main cause of death of the young people in the XIXth century. After Robert Koch discovered the sickness in 1882 the only thing they could learned about it was that it was an infectious disease, that it would reproduce in dark and dusty places and that sun, clean air and rest would help the patients. That is why all the great architects and designers of the time, started designing hospitals with bigger windows, clinics with huge terrraces and elevated residences to escape the germs or aerodynamic furniture where dust could not hide. This is how Modernist architecture was born. The great example on how the big pandemics have drawn the shape of our cities.

1:32 Tuberculosis was the great obsession end XIX-XX because it was very hard to find the cause of the sickness. It propagated all around Europe from the century XVIII and the common belief was that it spread through the bad or dirty air. So the only recommendation for all the patients was to go to the mountains and treat the sickness with fresh air. And that was like this until 1882 until Robert Kock discovered that could spread through the areas of dust. Then the focal point moved to the homes. Homes were sick, they needed to be cured and they started coming up with suggestions on how to “cure” them. They needed to get rid of carpets and curtains, lime plaster the walls, open the windows and eliminate everything that could cause dust. That is why the architects started building big white buildings with very big windows, with areas to sunbathe and get some fresh air.

“Cities are made of layers of layers of answers to epidemics or sicknesses. What is very interesting is that all these architects, such as Le Corbusier, Gropius, always mention the tuberculosis. Le Corbusier said: “The architecture of the XIX century is like an old sofa full of tuberculosis” or “We need to elevate the houses from the ground because it is in the humid soil where the sickness is born”.

Modernist architects wanted to create curative environments. Clean physically and symbolically from sicknesses and from pollution. The sanatorium Paimio by Alvar Aalto became the great referent in the hospital building, with the big terraces and spaces, while Le Corbusier was designing Villa Savoye, painted white and with elevated rooms to avoid the germs. Inside the houses, furniture was the next one to suffer the sanitary reform. The dust in decorative elements in the house was dangerous so minimalist design started substituting the old. Furniture had aerodynamic shapes and was easier to move and remove the dust.

Tuberculosis caused many changes to architecture, the other big epidemic of the time: cholera caused big changes on the city planning. For centuries people believed that cholera was not contagious, but it was “in the air”. When they finally discovered that the cause was a polluted waterwell in the center of London, a lot of reforms to city planning start taking place, not only in London but in many other big cities: Paris, New York, etc.

“Le Corbusier suggests extracting the centers of the cities and move them somewhere else. He does it in Paris or the center of Barcelona, because he wants to clean all the streets.”

5:36 Once medicine started offering solutions to the pandemics, the use of architecture diminished. The world now with Covid will have to face similar challenges. The hospitals were not ready to treat with that many patients or how to treat infectious sicknesses and preparing the spaces. Citizens are being asked to remain indoors and offices or classrooms now happen inside the home, but people nor the spaces were ready for this. In the new normality that requires social distancing, all the spaces will need to adapt to the new requirements. Architecture and urbanism become again ways of offering solutions.