Part of the Frame Lab section that defines the overarching theme for each of our print magazines, The Challenge asks up-and-coming designers to devise concepts that address pertinent issues in design. As our upcoming July/August 2020 issue – Frame 135 – is focused on post-pandemic spaces, we briefed three teams to come up with ways of adapting to the new normal and 1.5-metre society.

Below, we share a concept created by designer Paulino Poveda and his practice, Bubble Architecture Studio, especially for Frame. The studio’s idea – So near, yet so far - Balconies to the future – addresses occupancy obstacles, and poses a solution for COVID-era social gatherings.

Because of health hazards surrounding COVID-19, social gatherings have become almost impossible. What’s your solution?

PAULINO POVEDA: We dreamt up a temporary emergency system that takes into account the possibility of more crises in the (near) future. The system’s main aim is to reconnect people in a safe way. We used the 1.5-m rule as a guiding principle to develop hexagon-shaped flooring modules that can each house one person. Or, in the case of children, elderly or disabled people, a companion as well. They can be ‘puzzled’ on top of almost any surface – imagine the halls of the Louvre, for example – and form a kind of pavement.

Apart from demarcating ‘private’ space, what do the modules do?

They are equipped with technology that helps them connect – via Wi-Fi – with thermal bracelets that the population will be urged to use. The bracelets measure vital signs such as body temperature and will warn the wearer of any alterations as soon as they step on one of the pavement modules. If vital signs change abruptly, the floor will turn red and the wearer will be guided to an isolation module where he or she is joined by a health worker.

But if everybody needs a personal hexagon, you need a lot of floor space for a limited crowd.

Yes. And that will be a problem in the 1.5-m society in general. Imagine a small concert hall, for example. With our pavement system, the occupancy rate would easily drop from 50 people to only 15, with unprecedented economic implications. This goes for many public and entertainment spaces. So we suggest a system that, like scaffolding, creates different levels, thus extending floor space vertically.


Like little balconies?

Indeed. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused the balcony to become essential in urban life. A space that previously seemed quite insignificant is now a symbol of solidarity and innovation. Alone together, people applauded health workers and hosted open-air concerts for example. So in our concept, the reference to balconies is both symbolic and practical. Our Future Balconies –built up from the hexagon-shaped and tech-enabled platforms – can be installed quickly and temporarily, and enable event spaces and outdoor festivals to distribute people more safely across space.

Stay tuned for our next issue, Frame 135, out from 1 July. In the meantime, read more of our coverage on COVID-19's impact on the design industry here.