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By Johannes L. Chua

Illustration by Ariana Maralit 


The present crisis will not drag on forever, but its effects may change the way we live, work, or shop. The post-quarantine time may feel like an alternative universe as social norms and old practices give way to the “new normal.” Whether this will be a good thing or not remains to be seen, but this early, we are already feeling the changes.

“This is the ‘great ‘pause—resetting a lot of things, including routines and habits, that we thought will be with us for the rest of our life,” says Mia Buenaventura, an interior designer who also has specialization in psychology. “Every aspect of our life is affected by this crisis. No one is spared. No one will come out of this experience sheltered from the changes.”

According to Buenaventura, an individual’s life revolves around three major aspects—live (where one eats, sleeps, and nurtures a family), work (or study), and play (which involves shopping, traveling, or other leisure pursuits).

“Change has already come in the way we live and work. The quarantine forced us to adapt and stay steady in our homes; while those who are working and studying now rely on new technology to do tasks and communicate,” said Buenaventura. “What is also interesting is how Filipinos will adapt to changes in ‘play’ considering that we are sociable by nature and malls are like our second homes.”

Evolving commercial establishments

Urban areas in Metro Manila are filled with big commercial establishments such as mall complexes, huge supermarkets, and shopping strips. These structures have not been that “useful” or were not utilized well (supermarkets observe social distancing, thus limiting people inside) during the crisis as opening these to the public will be detrimental to efforts battling the virus.

“It’s sad to say that we have not prioritized proper urban planning, especially in Metro Manila,” says Architect Louwie A. Gan, who is also an urban environment planner. “For example, our communities are not within walking distance to open spaces where people can gather, play, exercise, or perhaps reconnect to nature. As a space supporting community gardening, these open spaces can be used as evacuation or for any emergency situation like space for a quarantine facility. Open spaces provide endless possibilities to support cities.”

Thus, Gan is recommending that retail spaces and commercial establishments should evolve as well, especially during times of crisis.

“Like organisms, these structures must evolve to be more resilient. Developers have to think of a way to be operational during crisis,” says Gan.

The challenge, according to Gan, is that our major malls are built in a way that it is “centralized”—people need to access specific entry and exit points for security consideration.

“Obviously, this set up is not resilient as most commercial spaces are closed,” he adds.

Gan recommends that commercial spaces should be “oriented inside-out, where people do not have to enter the building, but instead they are oriented to access private or public streets.”

“This may work because buildings contribute to the experience of walking, thereby encouraging people to walk. This is a concept in urban design, where retail space is decentralized and directly contributing to public life,” Gan says. “I really believe this is something developers will do in the near future. In fact, resilient cities use this concept in retail with government intervention to positively impact all sectors from the lowest income group to the highest.”

Looking forward structure-wise

The suggestion of Gan may already be too late as malls or commercial complexes are closed, but it pays to be forward looking once reconstructions or major renovations are allowed.

“Of course, there is nothing that can be done now in terms of design or construction. The developers, however, can put in mind some changes that can be implemented,” says Buenaventura.

For her, she sees it two ways, the immediate effects and the long-term changes.

“Malls, supermarkets, event venues, convention centers, etc. where people converge to shop, buy, play, or relax, will ‘change’ as long as there is still no vaccine to fight Covid-19,” she says. “We have to look into the government policy if people must still observe social distancing, if there will be curfews, or if there will be a limit to the number of people who can enter the mall at any given time. This is not a popular suggestion, especially to business owners, but it may help.”

The problem, according to Buenaventura, is how to “balance” public safety and commercialism.

“Retailers want to earn. Shoppers want to buy. But this is a recipe for disaster. So proper implementation of government policy, with the cooperation of business owners and consumers, is very crucial,” she says.

Expect changes, though. “We might say goodbye to three-day sales and holiday bazaars for the meantime; movie houses may have a cap in the number of customers (or not open at all); restaurants may limit the number of seats for dine-in customers; and events such as expos, sports competitions, and concerts may be limited this 2020. These are some changes that we may experience—short-term sacrifices with long-term benefits,” Buenaventura says.

All these changes will be seen in the coming weeks, especially as soon as the quarantine is lifted. Property developers and architects will look into the “new normal” as they create new spaces for live, work, and play.  Retailers and restaurants, she says, have to adapt also by using technology, courier delivery, and online promotions to sell products and services. She also sees the rise of “drive-thru” shops along the street where people can purchase food or products in the comfort of their car.

“Structure-wise, we have seen the importance of open spaces. Malls and commercial centers must be encouraged to have parks or any space that promotes exercise and wellness,” says Buenaventura. “If there’s any positive thing that this crisis will bring, it allows us to look ‘inside’ and to adapt to changes. This is the ‘great pause’ that will restart—and change—a lot of things. And everyone must face it, ready or not.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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