What can we learn from the pandemic?

Aalto University organized a studio discussion on what the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about the importance of the environment for health and wellbeing, and what kind of a future we are building on the basis of these lessons.
kaksi naista istuu punaisilla tuoleilla studiossa keskustelemassa, taustalla musta verho ja keltainen lattia
Professor Laura Arpiainen and architecture student Viivi Salminen talk about what the future student communities could look like.

A live studio discussion 10 September envisioned what kind of a world we should build after the COVID-19 era. The discussion presented solutions that were created at the Learnings from the Pandemic summer intensive in August. The course was led by Laura Arpiainen, Professor of Health and Wellbeing Architecture at Aalto University.

‘Any emergency brings out great creativity that would not be found otherwise. It is important that we focus on what good the pandemic can bring along’, she stated.

The summer course looked for sustainable design solutions following COVID-19 and gathered multi-disciplinary perspectives to create new interventions, designs, and policy recommendations for pandemics.

Arpiainen wants to see a change in how we perceive the role of architecture and design. In her view, we should be able to examine the decisions and adjustments from the pandemic and make use of them in our everyday lives.

‘It is easy to simply link health architecture to hospitals and other healthcare facilities. During COVID-19 we have witnessed a global realization that health and wellbeing should be applied to all design, construction and planning processes’ Arpiainen stresses.

Communal student village

As a form of temporary housing, student communities offer opportunities to try something new."

Viivi Salminen, architecture student

During the summer course, architecture student Viivi Salminen pondered on what an ideal distance learning environment would be like and whether new types of student communities could be formed as a result of the pandemic. How about, if in the future they wouldn’t even be affiliated with a particular university or campus, as distance learning is possible from anywhere?

‘The pandemic challenges also student housing, so the question is how to make student communities more humane and communal? As a form of temporary housing, they offer opportunities to try something new’, Salminen said.

She envisioned a novel, more communal student village that differs from the existing student villages in that it is based on the concept of a village. The hybrid model combines study spaces and private spaces. There is a clear separation between private and shared spaces and, in addition to shared activities, a wider range of shared services would be available, such as food trucks.

‘Since existing buildings control a lot of their use, we need to think about what our buildings are like’, Salminen reflected. She stressed that it would be important to create spaces, including outdoor spaces, where people can gather together. It is also important to be able to bring one’s own handprint into the community: the residents could plant trees and keep a garden, as well as paint and decorate the premises to be more comfortable.

The trinity of health

kaksi naista istuu studiossa punaisilla tuoleilla keskustelemassa, heidän välissään on näyttöruutuon
Laura Arpiainen and Iina Valkeisenmäki talk about the common health of humans, animals and nature.

In her work, Iina Valkeisenmäki, a doctor of veterinary medicine and an architecture student, focused on the significance of the common health of animals and humans in the post-pandemic world.

The topic is important because three of any four new communicable diseases come from animals. How we live side by side with the rest of the animal kingdom and nature is also of huge importance to human health.

‘The pandemic reminds us that human and animal health are common, there is One Health. The subject is gigantic, everything affects everything’, Valkeisenmäki emphasized.

In her reflections, Valkeisenmäki combines two different degrees and fields. The summer course offered her an interesting opportunity to expand the boundaries and set out on a search of a paradigm shift through what good can follow from a pandemic.

The discussion also dealt with how architecture and design can be used to ‘restore’ a good relationship with nature and how Finland could be a pioneer in the field.

Isn't it important to take care of resilience and ability for renewal, and to improve the state of nature, instead of continuous growth?"

Mikko Dufva, future expert, Sitra

‘Finland could be an example of One Health: we already demonstrate informed activities in many ways. For example, we are already at a good level with animal health, environmental health and public health. In the future, there will be an increasing need for cooperation between different disciplines', Valkeisenmäki stated.

‘Basically, it all comes to our relationship with nature and how we understand for example the effects of our lifestyles or consumption habits on nature and other living things. The course made me think we might have a lot to learn from indigenous peoples, who have an inherently balanced relationship with nature and animals’, Valkeisenmäki said.

‘As humans, we cannot isolate ourselves from nature and animals – everything we do always comes back to us.’

The foundations for the changed world are being laid now

kuvakaappaus etäyhteyden päästä keskusteluun osallistuneesta silmälasipäisestä miehestä, jolla on nappikuulokkeet korvillaan.
Mikko Dufva, future expert at the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra sees it important and necessary to make our actions and operations more sustainable.

The studio discussion followed with Laura Arpiainen and Mikko Dufva, future expert at the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra, reflecting on what the future looks like from a pandemic situation.

‘At the moment, it feels like the future can be influenced more than usual, or at least more directions seem possible. It is essential to identify the key issues and choices that should be discussed at the moment, as the foundations for a world changed by the pandemic are being laid right now’, Dufva stated.

He believes that the pandemic is a proper awakening for us humans – it is possible and necessary for us to make our actions and operations more sustainable. It is important to focus on how to repair the damage that has already been caused and build a future that is more resilient to new pandemics and other surprises.

‘Emphasizing efficiency does not solve this issue, but instead, we should challenge our worldview: wouldn’t it be important to take care of resilience and ability to renew our actions, and to improve the state of nature, instead of continuous growth?’ Dufva wondered.

He spoke of ecological reconstruction, which describes the tremendous change in the structures of society that must take place in order to get rid of fossil fuels. But, above all, a change must take place in our thought patterns, including economic patterns.

‘So far, there has been a lot of focus put on how to reduce our footprint, but we should also think about how to improve our handprint’, he outlined.

‘We already have a lot of knowledge and awareness of how it should work, but it hasn’t had a big impact yet. The pandemic has forced and pushed us forward, to work for a more sustainable future.’

‘If we look from the future to the present, that is, what future generations wonder about our current society, this present may look quite strange’, said Mikko Dufva.

Contact information:

Laura Arpiainen, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, [email protected], te. +358 50 465 2065

Viivi Salminen: Etänä kampuksella – Minkälainen olisi ihanteellinen etäopiskeluympäristö?

Iina Valkeisenmäki: Mikä on eläinten ja ihmisten yhteisen terveyden merkitys koronapandemian jälkeisessä maailmassa?

Mikko Dufva: Millaiseksi haluamme muovata koronan jälkeisen maailman?


Laura Arpiainen, Aalto-yliopiston taiteiden ja suunnittelun korkeakoulu, [email protected], 050 465 2065

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