Beyond the curve: A visual journey into our post-pandemic future

Author ARUP

Based on a series of workshops, desk research, and expert interviews, in this resource ARUP presents a visual journey of how several key areas of the built environment may become transformed in a post-pandemic world: home, neighbourhoods, transit, office, and retail. Each aspect includes visual images, suggested readings and example case studies. Together, they point towards what the future of our high streets and town centres might look like.

Date added 5 October 2021
Last updated 5 October 2021

In this resource, ARUP presents a visual journey of how the built environment may become transformed in a post-pandemic world, covering: home, neighbourhoods, transit, office, and retail. Taken together, they point towards what the future of our high streets and town centres might look like. As the authors explain:

The illustrations in this publication explore how we might live, work and play across the built environment in a post-pandemic world – from a new working environment to an adapted use of public transport to a transformed shopping experience. They are an invitation to imagine and question our world in a postpandemic era and an opportunity to consider how we can design and build a better, more resilient future.

Summaries of each aspect of the built environment covered, are provided below.

The built environment in a post-pandemic world?


Making space; virtually there; safe, healthy and efficient

The pandemic has led to more people working from home. If this were to continue, the resource suggests that spatial (e.g. flexible furniture and partitions) and temporal (e.g. clear time management) will be important to help protect people’s wellbeing. ARUP further explains that we might see more high quality technologies entering some people’s homes to improve convenience of home shopping and deliveries (e.g. smart sensors) and to enable more immersive social connections (e.g. augmented and virtual reality). Finally, it stresses the importance of ensuring there is better access to greenspace, terraces and courtyards, as well as more energy efficient solutions, in homes.


Localism; better together; back to the roots 

During Covid-19, we have seen the importance of local high streets and neighbourhoods for essential provisions and services. This resource suggests how the idea of the ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ may become increasingly common, to ensure that people can access essentials within a short distance from their homes, with better walking/cycling infrastructure important in this respect. ARUP also highlights how we might witness more co-working spaces in our neighbourhoods and other multi-functional shared spaces to create stronger communities. Finally, it argues that localised production and supply chains may aid further resilience and efficiencies (e.g. neighbourhood consolidation centres).


Active mobility; safety first; freight reimagined 

To help address issues around the environment, the resource explains how we could see better infrastructure around active and sustainable transport, such as electric vehicle infrastructure, interconnected cycling and walking network, and more cycle parking options. There may also be longer-term health concerns owing to the pandemic, meaning that health and safety should be further integrated into public transport design, such as back-to-back seating, pre-booked travel, automated temperature scans, contactless interactions, automated sanitisation, antiviral surfaces and improved ventilation.


Looking forward; distributed work patterns; future-proofed safety

ARUP argues that office design will need to better accommodate the more flexible working patterns accelerated by Covid-19, for instance through flexible spaces and reconfigurable work environments. More vibrant food and beverage offers, independent retailers, and shared social spaces could also be incorporated, in order to make the office a more attractive and convenient space. Digital connectivity will also become increasingly central due to distributed working patterns, to ensure everyone can be included, as well as 24-hour access into the building. Like with transport, health and safety will also be crucial, for example through contactless access and sensors to detect capacity and cleaning needs.


Vibrant streets; novel experience; behind-the-scenes

Online shopping has been further accelerated by the pandemic, meaning that high streets need to transform to meet changing demands and requirements. The resource suggests social life may flourish on the streets, through widened pavements, pedestrianisation, and pop-up activity. Experience, entertainment and a unique character will also be important for physical retail stores, such as through providing workshops, classes, immersive installations, and personalised products and services. Finally, the resource indicates how we are seeing the rising prevalence of ‘dark’ warehouses and kitchens, in order to respond to increased online orders, deliveries, and takeaways more rapidly, which may continue.