What are you experiencing in client interactions?

“There is a wide range of experience. Because we are inundated with media of all time, far surpassing any previous outbreak, it’s been hard for everyone to know what to trust. The market drops are probably as much a concern as the public health crisis in contemplating capital projects.”

How are you dealing with clients?

“We are talking through scenarios and looking at what is possible to accomplish during this time period, to keep projects on track, to keep business flowing, and to support and protect the staff, stakeholders, construction teams, supply chains, etc. There is an inherent tension between isolation and recover, which will require collective action.”

Are any new projects seemingly cropping up?

“Perhaps unique to us, but we have worked in outbreaks from day 1, tuberculosis, cholera, ebola. So yes, we are getting approached to try and help think about how to respond. We have been building the first genomic research center in West Africa to combat global pandemics since our client team there responded to Ebola several years ago.”

How are you working with contractors on job sites?

“We are first acknowledging we have to take this day by day. And not everyone has the luxury of working from home. We are providing recommendations on social distancing, working in shifts of smaller teams, and providing more PPE and protocols such as hand washing.”

Are job sites getting backed up with issues from workers not showing up to materials not arriving?

“Supply chains are definitely disrupted. But workers are as worried, if not more so, than others. They are more likely to have difficulty absorbing the economic costs of projects pauses and therefore more likely to take risks. We should be working in earnest to both protect and support the people that make these projects possible.”

Are there any other types of work situations or stories you’re experiencing because of the pandemic that you would like to share?

“I have seem some good pushback on the term social distancing, referring instead to this as physical distancing. It is a crisis that the people most likely to be impacted by this disease are also the most likely to be overlooked in the pursuit of social distancing. The elderly, the homeless, the chronically ill. Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, wrote a book, “Heat Wave” about the dynamics of the Chicago heat wave. He showed that areas that had strong social cohesion, that is places that know their neighbors and care about them, fared better regardless of economic status. His recent NYT article is required reading to think about the unintended consequences of isolation and that we should think about what we can do to support those who might otherwise be overlooked and least ability to cope with the health, social, and economic impacts of this crisis.”

Are there any positive experiences you would like to share?

“So many. I know chefs organizing to support their staff and figuring out how to feed their communities. Members of our staff are working to support centers for the homeless and to provide safe health care. We have project managers asking people on construction sites how they are feeling, a simple act of empathy and respect, to acknowledge and ask what we should do. As we sit in our homes, perhaps inconvenienced by some of these things, we should also reflect on the general security that probably many of us have. Most are not so lucky.”

Do you feel that you have developed innovative ways to manage any of the scenarios mentioned above?

“While I think there has been an inclination to discount what could happen and even articles about it, based on what I hear from global health experts at the forefront of this crisis, there is real reason to believe this will go on for months and we will be coping with the collateral damage much longer. I say this not to instill fear, but to be realistic, and to think about what we can do to contribute, to act in solidarity, and to start to plan how we as a profession can contribute to the healing that will inevitably be needed.”

Alan Ricks

Alan is a Founding Principal and the Chief Design Officer of MASS Design Group, whose mission is to research, build, and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. He leads strategy and design of the 120-person firm, which has projects in over twenty countries that range from design to research to policy—a portfolio that continues to expand the role of design in advancing a more just world.

Alan and MASS were awarded the National Design Award for Architecture from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. And the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Alan an International Fellowship in recognition of his contribution towards the field of architecture.

Alan is a member of The Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum, a community of over 800 men and women selected under the age of 40, who operate as a force for good to overcome barriers that elsewhere stand in the way of progress.

He has previously taught at the Yale School of Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Chris Anderson, chief curator of TED, described his TED talk as “a different language about what architecture can aspire to be.”