(Vitruvius 81BC-15BC)

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman author, civil and military engineer.  He is most noted today as one of the first architects.  Vitruvius produced a ten- volume treatise, De archetectura on architecture as a guide to building projects. His philosophy on building is condensed in the three words above, translated as durable, useful and beautiful.  These characteristics of buildings has transcended time as we today continue to feel strongly that our buildings and structures are always best when they are lasting, functional and appealing to the eye.  

The classical orders - YouTube


Through the centuries- culture, available resources, technology and architects themselves have been influential in the design and construction of residential and public buildings.  There are other influences on building design that we do not consider as often.  These influences are: yellow fever, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, polio, scarlet fever and influenza.  


The reconfiguration of cities throughout the world may be considered as a more recent phenomenon.  However, significant changes to where and how people live and work dates back centuries.  Early urban renewal in the 14th Century followed the bubonic plague.  Improvements of the Renaissance cities came as a response to unknown and unseen attackers in a desperate approach to improve cleanliness and what, at the time were thought to have brought on the recent deaths of so many.  

There was a clearing of overcrowded living spaces, opening of large spaces for the public to gather that would allow for more distance and even the creation of early quarantine facilities. These imposed efforts may sound very familiar to us following the lifestyle changes of 2020. Six hundred years later humankind reacts similarly and we have seen some of these same reactions by people and countries across the world whenever faced by the presence of germs that attack human immune systems.

typhoid-mary-political-cartoon - The Bowery Boys: New York City History

2 Chang, V. The Past Pandemic Style,

People had been drawn to large cities despite pandemics. At times, it was the pandemics that shifted and led to the migration, emigration and immigration of peoples.  In a period that spanned just over a century there were seven major pandemics. India (1816-1824); North America and Europe (1829-1837); North Africa and South America (1846-1869); Italy and Spain (1863-1875); Europe, Asia and North America (1881-1896); India (1899-1923) and worldwide (1918- 1921). 

The belief that epidemic disease posed only occasional threats to an otherwise healthy social order was shaken by the industrial transformation of the 19th century.  The cholera epidemics in Europe, first in 1832 and then in 1848 led to massive reconstruction in Paris.  There was certainly a willingness to effect some change following the first wave of the disease but not until Napoleon Bonaparte III teamed with a talented public official named Georges- Eugene Hausmann and with the impetus of a second cholera outbreak did much get accomplished. 

Far from industrializing France, at least geographically, China was struggling with its own health emergency.  The 3rd plague pandemic in 1855 would bring about changes to much of how that county would consider mitigating and preventing mass deaths to their population in the future. Sanitary reforms in China led to change in the drainpipes, modification of door thresh holds and the reconfiguration of building foundations in that country’s war against germs. 

Pandemics have forced architecture and city planning in this country to evolve.  First, in the 18th century in America, yellow fever outbreaks and then in the 19th century with bouts of cholera and yellow fever, responses to how we lived were triggered.  These modifications came in the way of increases in the width of public roadways to what were referred to as broad boulevards.  Citywide sewer systems were developed and enhanced.  The advances towards indoor plumbing became a focus as there was a sanitary awakening.  Disease mapping and tracing grew in importance and a migration and development towards suburbs began.

The bacteria that leads to the sickness tuberculosis was discovered in 1882. At that time it was thought that the disease was likely airborne and spread through ventilation.  Nearly one in seven persons would succumb to the disease.  The use of sanitoriums to offer natural light, some exercise and improved emotions was then thought to help patients. Roof gardens, glass walls, clean air and natural light were popular additions for building design.  It was the obsession with tuberculosis and the invention of X-ray radiography as a means of diagnosis that gave the boost to certain types of architecture.  Architecture as a theory of anatomy- architecture related to

3 Cole, D. Design in the Age of Coronavirus: Relearning from Past Pandemics (5-4-2020)

4 Echoes of Epidemics Past,

5 Giacobbe, Alyssa, How the Covid-19 Pandemic Will Change the Built Environment (3-18-2020)

health.   It might also be referred to as disease driven design or public architecture for public health. Modern architecture has much to do with a campaign for health.

In the 1900s, tuberculosis and influenza outbreaks led to cleanliness in design.  Also, large windows, ample balconies, interior surfaces that were easily cleaned, brass beds- rather than wood which is more difficult to clean, built-in tubs rather than claw-foot-pedestal tubs with a lot of surface for cleaning- tubs with only one side surface and subway tile walls were preferred.  Pedestal porcelain sinks and lacquered tank-and-bowl toilets made it much easier to reach and clean surfaces with solutions that were thought to kill unseen germs.  Before these changes, toilets were made of wood- both the seat and water tank that was mounted high as a two-piece unit. Modifications were all done as a disease-driven design.  

Only about 15-20 years before the pandemic of 1918 microorganisms were imagined as tiny monsters and there was a general thinking that buildings provided germs a place to hide and breed.

Discover the Enchanting World of Microbes in 19th Century Lithogfraphs –  Kuriosis Vintage Prints

Some mainstays of the late 19th century home were the first to be identified as possible  breeding places for germs and therefore illness. Textiles such as wallpaper, tapestries, pillows, rugs, masonry, moldings and scrollwork were the first to be removed. Non porous tile, concrete and metals that are more easily cleaned became in vogue. Design that allowed for natural light, fresh air and higher ceilings were introduced into building and remodel projects. Floorplans also changed as washrooms were placed near the front entrance of homes in order to provide

 6 Colomina, Beatriz, X-Ray Architecture, Zurich, Switzerland: Lars Mille Publishers (2019)

7 Feldman, XXX, How a Pandemic Inspired Your Bathroom (4-16-2020)

8 LA Times (4-22-2020), Pandemics Have Forced Architecture and City Planning to Evolve

9 James, Sandy, corona-virus/

visitors or even family that arrived home from work a place to wash up before entering further into the home. 

Interestingly, during the influenza pandemic of 1918, children lost their parents- not their grandparents, especially during the second of three waves of outbreaks. This alone had a remarkable impact on the family dynamic as many children of the time entered the foster care system or went into the care of older relatives. The pandemic of this time killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Responses to this devastating event linger even today.  In the 1920s, children attended school with small containers of camphor around their neck to guard against virus.  This practice of using camphor as a protection continued for decades as homeowners hung camphor in closets. 


Social hygiene movement - Wikiwand

The pandemic caused shifts in society.  In the 20th century, tuberculosis, typhoid, polio and the influenza pandemic of 1918 all prompted more advances in urban planning, slum clearance, tenement reform, waste management and the general modernization of buildings and use of open spaces in design.

Urban planning, fear of contagion, social concerns and resentment for large populations (chiefly of immigrants) led to widening of streets, demolition of high-density housing and a press to move people to the suburbs. This suburban migration also led to large infrastructure work on single family housing.  Zoning laws were passed by local governments that separated business,

11  How A Pandemic Damages the Building Industry- Lessons Learned from 1918. (8-31-2020)

industrial and residential spaces. Twentieth century urban renewal followed a tuberculosis outbreak and then the Influenza pandemic of 1918.

old courtroom


Trends in architecture and urbanism have grown from a number of measures that were taken to safeguard health and hygiene while still providing comfort for the building users and visitors. Most architecture today shares evidence of how humans have responded to infectious disease by redesigning our physical space. Social distancing and distance learning will have the ability to alter design and planning processes with increased acceptance of distance learning and personal space. 12  

The term “healthy buildings” first surfaced in the 1990s in the context of “sick building syndrome” (SBS).  The public discussion at the time centered on construction of public buildings that were tightly built with insufficient air turnover each hour. More specifically, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1986 considered the health impacts on a buildings’ tenants and workplace health related to not only poor ventilation but high levels of dust, bright or flickering lighting, problems with cleaning and office layout (crowded desks) and the presence of mold and fungus. It was noted that SBS was more accurately a collection of ten or more related diseases that will occur in mostly open -plan offices.  An outgrowth of these findings led to the codifying of indoor air quality (IAQ). 13

 12 Budds, D., Design in the Age of Pandemics (2020),


Prior to the pandemic in 2020 the real focus of change in courtroom design was the enhancement and modernization of courtroom technologies and security issues.  A chief reference for courthouse design and construction for the past sixty years has been the federal government’s GSA – Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture (1961). The reference lists five tenets: security, technology, sustainability, accessibility and style.  These guidelines have had a profound impact on design and construction of buildings in both private and public sector.  For courthouses at all jurisdictional levels, following the guidelines has led to the development of separate circulation patterns for public, prisoners and judicial officers and staff among a number of other design mainstays.


Early in the first quarter of 2020 without a full assessment of the impacts of the novel corona virus, a leading architect and faculty with MIT made the statement, “…this won’t be the first time in history that cities and buildings will be reimagined or redesigned in response to an increased understanding of disease.  Covid19 has moved the future sooner. There is little doubt that due to discovered effectiveness of past practices, some of the innovations from the last century will come back into vogue. 

Architects and urban planners are some of the first to respond to disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and large fires that destroy structures. Highly involved in reconstruction of damaged buildings following natural disasters.  However, with pandemics-there has been less  involvement of architects and urban planners. The early responses to “disasters” may have been restricted to physical, natural types of events. It may be time for us to enlist the resources of architects and urban planners in our solutions to future threats of pandemics.

Covid 19 will likely slow urbanization – cities advised to expand horizontally and decrease density. Jurisdictions may move away from constructing large courthouses with multiple large courtrooms.  Courthouses of the future could have fewer courtrooms and will likely focus on multi-use facilities. Facilities containing multiple functions such as courtrooms, the local jail, law enforcement, probation, prosecution, indigent defense and treatment facilities are all in one facility. There will most probably be a design that reflects smaller courtrooms with the ability to afford virtual attendance.

A unique way to help predict what future courthouses will look like is to scan projects that have been impacted by way of the events of 2020.  Whether as courthouse renovation project, as a smaller part of a larger construction undertaking or as a stand-alone new build, a number of projects were impacted and sometimes the outcome of a project depended on location or project-specific considerations.  In a case study of three projects, one went to complete stop, a


second had decision makers continue work but open to change and the third took a wait and see approach. Statewide considerations impacted the renovation project that had a full stop and even though it was at a design stage- a bigger picture impact led to that decision.  The other two projects offer more insight as to future courthouse and courtroom design as discussions were undertaken about the impacts on law enforcement based on social reactions to police activity and the possible reduction of some caseloads and the continuing use of video conference. 15


The pandemic has altered business life from business as usual to business for pandemic and post pandemic.  One question to be answered is how do we assess the capacity of existing buildings?  We will need to evaluate the effects of pandemics on residential and commercial buildings and address emerging solutions for building design- and possible future interruptions.

It does appear that there will be some implementation of post-pandemic best practices including flexible and adaptive build and the use of agile work space, collaborative shared spaces with an expectation of fewer in-person litigants and less spectators. If virtual working is successful and we are at least as productive this will challenge shared workplace.

Up for consideration are touchless technology, automatic doors, voice automated elevators, cell-phone controlled room entry, hands free sinks, automated luggage bag tagging, antibacterial materials and finishes and self-cleaning bathrooms. The days of constructing large waiting rooms may succumb to waiting pods or nooks with RIFD to track and alert patients/public to their next move.  Design that encourages people to spread out and promote the reduction of density is very likely to be included in future planning.

One authority provided some practical assessment of how best to proceed in light of our recent experiences in trying to maintain access to justice.  There needs to be a generalized reduction of the number of people circulating throughout the facility by ensuring that they know the direct route to their destination. Courts will need to provide in-person information and directions that are available immediately after security.  Informative signage needs to be placed throughout the buildings and circulation routes need to be clearly marked.  If possible, there needs to be one way circulation for entry and the exit. 16

15  Schlauch, Kurt, How will Covid- Related Changes Affest Your Courthouse Project (12-11-2020),

16  Considerations for Reopening the Courthouse: A Pandemic Resource, (NCSC 6-1-2020), reopening-courthouses.pdf.

Recognizably a Courtroom': US Judiciary to Get a Virus-Minded Makeover –  Courthouse News Service

Some of the protections that have become familiar to all of us will need to continue.  Routine cleaning and the use of personal protective equipment may become a mainstay for some time to come as will the use of hand sanitizer.  Large spaces that allowed for groups to congregate will be divided into smaller units and new technologies may lead to the use of ultra violet (UV) cleaning and hands free and touchless options for communication and gaining access.

Could policymakers, planners and architects inspired by the digital world learn from cybersecurity to make our built environment more resistant to virus?  Biological disease and virus mimics the spread of computer virus in our networks. We will need to further build our structures to slow or stop viral spreading and provide antivirus protections to ultimately achieve an anti-virus-built environment.  

Reverence for court buildings sometimes verges towards a metaphysical that posits courts not just as symbols of justice but somehow as constitutive of justice. New goals in design must include – public health and access to justice. As noted by Resnik and Curtis, “Justice without courts is almost unimaginable – if not conceptually impossible”. Courthouses are a symbol of justice. Courthouses are designed to convert the public to the judiciary.  Some judges and attorneys may find it difficult to conduct real and serious judicial work anywhere other than a physical courtroom.  

17 Resnick J. and Curtis, D., Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City States and Democratic Courtrooms, Yale University Press (2011).

18  Susskind, R., Online Courts and the Future of Justice, Oxford University Press (2019).

A major challenge for courts will be that it has been the idea or promise that physical presence is necessary in the courtroom for judicial proceedings. Most likely, following more than a year of operating in courthouses and courtrooms designed and constructed prior to a worldwide pandemic, the future will be a blend of court services delivered as some or all of —physical courtrooms, virtual hearings and online courts. 19

19  Susskind, R. ibid p.63

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