Michael Goodman, MD and partner at EDG Interior Architecture and Design, on how the industry will weather the Covid crisis and what he is most excited about in the opportunities that now present themselves

There has been much written about how the design industry will change in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Across the world, stakeholders in this space have called for a new way to approach design, which would adapt to the “new normal” of social distancing, or would help reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Conversations surrounding this subject of designing for a post-pandemic future is indeed robust. Everywhere, design experts talk of reimagining the way we design our homes to incorporate workspaces or home offices; there is even debate about the future of co-working spaces and the future of this fast-changing trend. Indeed, in an article on The Jakarta Post, professor at School of Architecture in Hongik University and head of Hyunjoon Yoo Architects, Yoo Hyun-joon, is confident that change is inevitable.

“People will spend more and more time at home in the future with widespread work from home and online classes,” says Yoo. “Houses have to accommodate more functions in the future, which will increase the demand for larger houses (more) than ever before.” Closer to home, the conversation is turning towards rethinking building design rules in light of the pandemic.

In fact, it was reported that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has begun discussions with industry experts whether to revise the rules on air-conditioning, as well as on mechanical ventilation in buildings, with the aim to ensure there is better ventilation in crowded spaces and to ensure air quality for such public health emergencies.

Talk of “contactless offices” with doors that swing open without touching them, is growing, as are conversations on cubicle space and, unsurprisingly, debates on whether we have any need for an office space to begin with. A new way to design home and office spaces is inevitable, it would appear.

Yet for MD and partner of award-winning design firm, EDG Interior Architecture and Design, Michael Goodman, any guesswork as to what design will look like, post-Covid, is just that: a guess. EDG’s portfolio of work include Fairmont Singapore, the Hilton Hotel in Dallas, Texas, and The Art Institute of Chicago, among many others. Goodman joined EDG in 2011.

“I feel very strongly that the talk surrounding what’s it going to be like is a little bit of crystal-ball territory right now. And the truth is that there may not be one trend that emerges from all this — there might be five different trends that come out because five different countries even within the same region have had a different response or a different challenge with Covid-19,” he says.

Certainly, how Singapore adapts to the pandemic is going to be quite different to how, say, Brazil adapts to it; and it is for this reason that Goodman feels that the changes are not “one size fits all”. “I think how things change, will be based on how much time the whole [situation] has had to set into the public psyche; and if it becomes part of the public psyche, then in a much deeper way, you’re going to see bigger changes,” he adds.

Incoming change

This is not to say Goodman does not think the design industry will remain unchanged, or unaffected by the pandemic.

He believes that there are a wealth of opportunities, although he cautions against “riding the hype train” or making sweeping predictions about how design will change. Rather, his focus is on the present, and how he intends to find new ways to work and new ideas to explore.

For Goodman, rethinking design is not the key to surviving the pandemic; it is in resetting our mindsets towards how we work and live that is going to cut it. “My concern for the design industry is not about the past six months. My concerns for the design history is about the next 18 [months],” he says. “I think the real challenge is happening now and I’m seeing a very challenging marketplace where there’s people out there looking for fees at half of what we used to charge,” he adds. “Ultimately, I have to make sure my employees stay employed, if possible, and stay focused on them. But at the same time, I also have to make sure that we’re not losing tons of money to do it; and it’s a very tricky balance. And it’s a figure I’ve heard from within and without the industry,” he adds.

However, Goodman feels that this could very well be a good thing. “So if that is going to be the way forward, then we’re all going to have to retool how we deliver work — and that could be a good thing. We might be able to recalibrate the relationship a little bit so that it’s a little bit more streamlined, and find faster ways to do the work.

Because the fee, in isolation, is in relation to how long the team takes to do the job. If clients are ready to make changes and get involved, then we’re all going to be able to make some changes and it could be good for the industry,” he adds. “I’m trying to look at everything in Covid-19 as ‘where are the opportunities?’ How can I use this as a time to make things better because my belief is that after Covid-19, everyone — whether you’re an individual or a company — in the whole world is going to come out of this either better or worse,” he says.

“And so my focus is constantly trying to make sure that as much as possible, whether clients, employees, friends or colleagues, everyone comes out the better.” How Goodman intends to do so though, is not quite so straightforward.

Radical ideas

“My approach is going to be a challenging one: every single idea, no matter how radical, we have to consider and kick the tyres on.”

“I have long said to my team that whatever the idea is, I want you to find a way to make it work; and then along the way, you’re going to come up with a lot of negatives and challenges to it. And eventually, we’re going to determine if there’s too many negatives or challenges to overcome. But I want us to find all the ways that it can work first, before we start just shooting holes in it. Because I think it changes your mindset,” he explains. This means that all ideas will be thoroughly considered, debated, discussed and tried before it is executed.

“I want to try to find out how to make it work first, and if I have to abandon it later I will, but in the meantime, the best way for me to go forward is to try to make it happen. Once that’s the case, I think you’re gonna find out pretty quick what can and can’t work. And that’s what we’ve done with working from home.”

While previously there was resistance towards working from home, or doubts over whether it could work, we now know that it does, and it works well for many people. “Not only is it possible, I’m actually seeing massive benefits. When you’re forced into it, that’s how you find out. Had we kicked the tyres on this earlier, maybe we would have done this a long time ago,” he adds.

To be sure, Goodman is not saying that the design industry will remain complacent. Far from it. Having just completed the Barbary Coast here in Singapore, which is a new bar that combines two entirely distinct concepts in one and is inspired by the district in San Francisco of the same name during the mid-1800s, he also sees that there will be changes in upcoming projects in that however small, each will be carefully considered.

“For example, for the Neon Pigeon, which was located in Keong Saik, the lease expired in March [the izakaya was closed in July, but they will be relocating], and table sizes there were small, perhaps among the smallest of any restaurant anywhere but that was a part of their pigeonhole approach,” he says. “As we’re considering the new Neon Pigeon, we’re looking at table sizes being slightly larger; so little things like that, I think will change. Whether we see big wholesale changes, I think comes down to that same thing we talked about at the beginning — What is the length of time that this thing draws out in any given particular location? How much will that get into your psyche?”

Looking forward, Goodman reiterates that the industry is perhaps at a turning point where it now has to ask how it can turn a negative experience into a positive one. “[We need] to look at the old ways of doing things, find the faults and then rework them, so we can improve on them. And I think that without Covid-19, maybe we wouldn’t have done that.”