In post-COVID times, technology, smart accessories, voice-activated levers and more functional doors will take over the conventional doorknobs and handles, says Sakshi Sharma
In our day to day lives, we touch a lot of surfaces which might be infected by microbes and bacteria. And there are certain contact points which are difficult to avoid. For instance, can you guess the number of fingers which would have touched that doorbell you just rang? Can you guess how many people hold the doorknob you just turned? Or to be precise, was it used by someone who was infected with the novel Coronavirus? Well, a contaminated doorknob can infect a household or an entire office floor. Since a drastic change in the way doors are designed is not possible immediately, many are finding new and easy ways such as using our sleeve, elbow or forearm to move the handle. But the question is, for how long can we adjust with such temporary solutions because you can’t socially distance yourself from a door, can you?
The pandemic has sparked calls for the introduction of building codes and design innovations for all future structures to comply with infection control measures. Fundamentally, we want to be creating buildings that minimise the amount of sickness people have at their workplace or commercial places. A combination of technology, smart accessories and functional designs can influence how one handles a door. So how are doors going to be redesigned for the post-COVID times?
Automation is key
Every problem leads to innovations and solutions, and so has this one. Design thinkers say that it is important for them to look at new inclusive design solutions, which are meant for the masses. The door designs could be many but automation will play a big role now. Puja Mathur, Interior Designer, Arcadia Design, says, “The doors should be either controlled by an app on a cell phone or should be voice-activated. The other option is automatic doors controlled by a button that can be activated with just an elbow.” Or may be even a foot-tap. She adds that the most low-tech design solutions like foot-operated kick pedals at the bottom of the door will prove most effective in pandemic proofing.
Agreeing with her, Meena Murthy Kakkar, Design Head and Partner, Envisage, says that foot-pedals have been prevalent in the market and are the most cost-effective solution. For areas such as public restrooms, this is the most apt solution. Since there will be no choice for a typical hand-knob, the public will have to use it. However, for other public areas such as malls, automatic, motion-detecting doors, which are already in use in some venues, will be the way forward. With no contact, they will provide the best solution.
However, certain rooms such as cabins for the management and others, where there is restricted access, doorknobs or handles cannot be done away with. Therefore, rather than a design change, Meena suggests a sanitisation kiosk or a hand sanitiser. Since the number of people using the door is limited, this can be an effective strategy.
“Automated doors with no door handles and voice control locking systems eliminate contact and help prevent the spread of infection. Doors integrated with technology will be the key change in future,” says Anika Mittal Dhawan, Founder and Director, Mold Design studio.
However, architect Aparna Kaushik feels that a drastic change in the way doors are designed is not possible immediately. She says, “First preference would be to use knob finishes that do not react to the disinfectants. Knobs that can be easily cleaned are the need of the hour. It is also important to use knobs made of materials such as copper that do not harbour microbial activity for long.”
Pierluigi Lualdi, Partner and director R&D, Lualdi, also believes that handles should be redesigned according to new materials that can interrupt the contamination.
The world is changing and we need to adapt to a new, more germ-conscious way of living. Puja says that for many in the design community, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused them to re-evaluate their work. What it might mean to design for a world that will never be the same, especially when it comes to how we gather in public spaces, offices, airports, hotels, gyms, hospitals and condominiums.
“The method to solve the problem of door handles acting as a transmission route for viruses and microorganisms is the door opening and closing mechanism that was developed without manual operation. The device for opening the door with the help of a foot pedal was built into the bottom of the door leaf. The function of the door handle and door lock is not affected. The foot door opener makes the door handle superfluous in most cases. This eliminates the risk of contamination. In addition, the transport of items that must be carried with both hands, for example, a tray, is facilitated. Automated doors, voice activated doors, elevators, cell phone controlled room entry are the future,” says she.
Puja adds that another means of opening doors without using the hands is provided by door handles designed to be operated with the forearm. When used correctly, the forearm operated door opener reduces the risk of cross-infection. The brass door opener helps to decrease the spreading of germs while performing daily tasks. It is economical too. Another such opener is Arm pull, a touchless and hygienic door handle. Pull with your arm and elbow every time you use the doorknobs.
Meena lists some new design solutions which have emerged as cost-effective and easy to use. One is the Hygiene Hook, designed by Steve Brooks. It reminds one of the toothpick strategy used to operate lifts. It is a portable hook, which an individual can carry with him/her and use it to open doors and handles of the places s/he visits. Simple and ingenious. Another such innovation is the hands-free door handle by Wyn Griffiths. He designed a door handle using a 3D printer, which can attach itself to a door with a crook to open it. He hopes the hospitals and other public spaces can make full-use of this to help reduce chances of infection. Once used, it can be sanitised and re-used as well.
RFID cards, touch-free access cards, which are used in hotels, will hopefully see an increase in usage as an entry permit through automated doors. Biometric scanners for fingerprints or number pads will now lose their feasibility. Pallavi Vijaydeep, lead interior architect, Housejoy, mentions some emerging design solutions — voice-controlled smart doors, simple accessories at the bottom of the door that allow you to pull using your feet and personalised portable door accessories through which you can hook on to the handle to open it.
“There are multiple solutions that people are coming up with to temporarily attach to the existing doors or door handles like key chains with hooks or attachments to open the door with your arm but the most effective are the sensor based systems like wave to open functions, touchless door bells and switches,” says Anika.
Since home automation is becoming big, a solution employing motion sensors can be used to open and close the doors. Foot-operated kick pedals can also be used if they can be designed in a non-invasive manner, keeping the aesthetic part in mind, suggests Aparna. However, contrary to what other designers and architects suggest, Pierluigi says, “They are all absolutely unfriendly and not natural. The challenge for the future is not to fall in the trap of technology (hardware or software) for every simple action of daily life.”
Will safety overpower designs?
Since the ultimate aim of design is functionality and comfort, safety always overpowers design, believes Aparna. For example, when we design large windows, there is always a safety concern, but we go for laminated, unbreakable window panes to allay this fear. Similarly, in the design of the door too, safety and practicality will have to be woven with the aesthetics.
However, Pierluigi feels that if that happens we will live in ugly spaces. This will generate a bounce back to design in the private space to outbalance the homologation of public spaces. “Designers need to incorporate safety with design in our design plans. Some defensive yet aesthetically beautiful designs need to be employed. The current situation will segregate the timelines as BC (Before Corona) and AC (After Corona), where all the elements and spaces will be designed with minimum human contact,” says Puja.
For Meena, aesthetics evolve with time and as designers, they are sensitised to adapt to the changing requirements. She says it is their job to ensure that feasible design solutions are developed, wherein safety and good design go hand in hand. “Safety is always a priority, however, design elements that incorporate the new normal will require a balance between aesthetics and safety measures,” says Pallavi.
How will they go hand in hand?
“Motion sensors are where the seamless merging of technical advancement with decor takes place as they are nearly invisible and can be operated without any kind of touch,” says Aparna.
Possibilities are endless. Pallavi feels that people opting to limit contact with doors will prefer trendy designs. Technology, smart design and accessories will make it functional.
“With time, we also see new innovations in materials, which can add to our design aesthetics. For example, we are seeing the 3D printers designing face-shields for our front-line workers,” says Meena.
“We need to rethink how we introduce interfaces that replace touch with gesture in the workplace. For instance, waving your hand to trigger an automatic door removes the need to touch handles. As it says, Voice Does the Buddha’s Work, use your voice. Google, Siri, Alexa have transformed the way we think about virtual assistance. These controls have normalised the voice control with home devices allowing people to speak directly to their light fixtures, electronic gadgets like geysers, air conditioners, doorbells, curtains etc. Same way combine in the workplace setting by ‘unlock the office door’,” says Puja.
She also lists how the intricately-carved door or a glass door which leads to your workplace or home can be merged with technology by concealing the wires or the mechanism. The integrated swing door has the drive system, control unit, power supply and user interface — all designed into one. “The technological advancements will merge with design and decor without interrupting the overall look but evolve with the safety and effective solutions to prevent contaminations from virus or germs that can be found on a doorknob,” adds she.
Well, even though there are a thousand ways already in progress to ensure touchless movement between spaces, we are now left here to see how much they work to become the new normal.