Architects and building engineers strive to create safe, productive places where humans can live and work.

We have developed complex codes, regulations and guidelines to achieve goals such as structural safety, fire safety, adequate ventilation and energy efficiency, and to anticipate extreme scenarios such as 100-year floods. The question for our profession now is whether and how the 100-year viral pandemic will change architectural design and building operations.

How can societies safeguard buildings or homes from a viral pathogen during an epidemic? What would it take to redesign public and institutional buildings so they could help “flatten the curve,” instead of simply evacuating occupants? What if people could shape and modify the microbial communities present inside buildings to minimize exposure to harmful pathogens?

At the University of Oregon’s Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center, we study interactions between humans, buildings and microorganisms. We believe that architecture needs to adapt and evolve in ways that help people manage indoor microbiomes to support health. In a new paper, we combine research on how microbes function indoors with knowledge about the novel coronavirus to outline ways of minimizing COVID-19 transmission in building.