Architecture director’s book explores pandemics and the built environment

Architecture director’s book explores pandemics and the built environment
Thursday, January 19, 2023

Blaine Brownell, director of the David R. Ravin School of Architecture, examines the role of the built environment in both the spread and the mitigation of infectious disease historically, currently and in the future in “The Pandemic Effect: Ninety Experts on Immunizing the Built Environment.”

Published by Princeton Architectural Press, this work brings together architects, urban designers, materials scientists and health officials to consider how the design of buildings, spaces and cities can promote public health and protect from future pandemics.

“Physical context plays a significant role in transmitting infectious disease — the cause of approximately one-third of annual deaths worldwide,” Brownell writes in the book’s introduction. “Yet, there is insufficient awareness about the influences of architecture, infrastructure, and the constructed landscape in spreading illness.”

The dearth of knowledge became glaringly obvious in spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. As the crisis grew, Brownell began to address pandemic-related topics in his “Mind and Matter” article series in Architect magazine. Those articles and related lectures and presentations became the foundation for the book, which he hopes will “catalyze the creation and sharing” of information and understanding. “In the future, architecture has the potential to be a cure — not a cause — of communicable illness,” he writes.

The book features brief essays in five thematic sections: histories, inside/outside, interventions, new strategies and the public realm.

While the 90 contributing experts come from all over the world, 10 are faculty at UNC Charlotte: Mona Azarbayjani, Rachel Dickey, Jefferson Ellinger, Kyoung Hee Kim, Liz McCormick, Noushin Radnia and Catty Dan Zhang, School of Architecture; Cynthia Gibas, College of Computing and Informatics; and Hamed Tabkhi and Mariya Munir, Lee College of Engineering.

The timeliness — and usefulness — of Brownell’s book landed it on Fast Company’s list of “7 design books to look forward to in 2023,” and an early review in Publisher’s Weekly called it an “illuminating collection” that is “smart and creative.”