Updated: Jul 3, 2020
As for many of us around the world, lockdown has been a time of change, pause and reflection for me. I'm currently furloughed, effectively allowing me to be paid by the government to do voluntary work, community support, self and home improvement, or plain old nothing! Its a pretty unique opportunity and has brought up a lot of questions around what we count as work, the routines and spatial practices we have around it and the time we spend 'at work'.
I've often wondered if I am being as effective as I can be or want to be in my usual life. I've been frustrated at a lack of time or opportunity to invest in other aspects of life. At the wider scale, I am critical of the society and world created by our obession with economic production and growth.
Whilst lockdown has brought its own challenges, many of which prevent this being the freedom and flexibility I've fantasised about, it has certainly allowed and encouraged me to engage much more with other parts of my life. I'm able to reach out to others around me, as well as reflect and dedicate time to personal goals, drastically restructuring the routine and balance in my life.
It's not something I take for granted and I will strive to hold onto these aspects, hopefully building on them further as restrictions lift and open further opportunities. I hope others have found similar lessons and that there are some precious values we can rediscover and take forward as we struggle to settle into that 'new normal' we are promised...
LIFE | WORK
2019. It gives Covid-19 its name.
Life. The now worn out phrase 'business as normal’ for so many of us.
Busy and distracted, lives led via mindless routines. Commuting with strangers to a stale office, distant colleagues.
Yet Covid-19 brings our 2020 to a panicked stillness.
Our routines change suddenly. Drastically. Thrusting us forth into the uncomfortable, the unknown.
We crave a break from this digital programme.
We crave human comfort, the analogue, the familiar.
We go into isolation, separated from loved ones and strangers alike, yet we are also connected by this overwhelming, common, uniting purpose.
We see a surge of desire for community solidarity and mutual aid, reflection and introspection.
Times and places have changed, our own times and spaces have changed.
Each dwelling must expand to become everything; to provide office and playpen, social space and retreat.
Meanwhile, huge swathes of infrastructure lie vacant.
What if these empty offices, retail parks, shopping malls and parks are repurposed?
Let tight households breathe. Enable lonely people to meet. Allow inspired activists to self-organise?
We have seen how quickly a stadium becomes a hospital, treats our physical health.
Now lets treat the community, our mental health.
Lockdown. Self-isolate. Social distance. But take care of eachother, and yourselves.
Suddenly, we all need our 2m radius. We must all take up the space of one, whole person.
Safe spaces pop-up around our neighbourhoods.
Comforting tents and awnings populate parks, precincts, empty malls and dusty boardrooms.
Tables and rugs. Safe distancing, yet invitation: come and share
A single mother finally finds enough desk space, adequate Wi-Fi to let her "just work from home"
Her neighbour, furloughed and isolated from their own children, watches over her children for a couple of hours.
An ex-mechanic finds new purpose restoring bikes for food distributors.
A teenage boy finds a new skill, a new relationship, an alternative education.
We anchor the community, we take back some of the space reserved for so long by business.
We redistribute it. For those who have none.
We create value for what and who we have ignored. We make it evident, physical.
We value connection, support, a hug.
We value labour beyond physical production.
We value emotional labour, community work, support.
"No Return To Normal!"
We move towards the next phase and cries to Learn.Our.Lessons are heard.
The crisis has been a wake up call, so much more than an infectious microbe, but a light shining on a deeper sickness.
We tentatively reintegrate. We settle into healthier ways to support ourselves.
To support each other, the world around us.
We no longer need to produce so much stuff, travel so often, commute every day.
Our local environment provides so more than we had ever appreciated.
We resolve to revalue work within our very community.
Our work and home lives have meshed, intertwined. They no longer need to be separated, or treated as binaries.
Our interventions remain, fuse with existing infrastructure and give birth to new work-life hybrids.
A busy day in the office is rebalanced: a soothing lunch hour in the community growing space, a day at home investing in a new skill.
Busy parents no longer ‘stay-at-home’, they integrate.
Busy work caring for children, brothers, mothers, lovers.
Busy work on the business plan. We can.
Gradually, we learn to redefine ‘work’.
We include community support, personal growth.
We include caring for our mental and physical health.
We work on life.
BEFORE | work-life
Our lives, cities and connections are becoming ever more digitalised, automatic and commercialised. We spend so much of our time doing paid work, hours that were designed and created long ago based on a patriarchal structure of the father as provider. Now, in our quest towards equality, do we just ask the same from all genders, still neglecting to value other forms of work?
DURING | work on life
How can spatial design be instrumentalised to recapture some of the space and time we have given over for so long to business, production and commerce? Can we use this time of pause to take back some of these spaces and reinhabit them, use them for community purpose and revalue the softer aspects of life?
AFTER | life-work
And the question on everybody's lips now. What will change? Have we learnt? Can we learn? Or will we go straight back to our old habits as soon as the world reopens? If we really do want to change, we need to make that happen. We need to build it into our, new, everyday lives and crowd out what was no longer serving us, or the world around us. Time to build the 'new normal'?!
these thoughts and images were developed via and following discussions with Robby Stubbs, August Persson, Claire Barry, Jose de la Torre and Laura Almond for a competition response to the Corona Design Competition by DesignClass. Thanks for your insight, inspiration and motivation!