Report on ACSR/AEA Virtual Engagement Meeting on 8 May 2020 (and overall action plan)

COVID19 is affecting everyone in the world.

While architects are not on the front line like our medical counterparts, we have an undeniable duty to contribute to the fight as the built environment clearly constitute a major contributor to the war against the pandemic. As different countries are at different phases of the pandemic, and each has its own unique challenges, the fight remains largely isolated efforts by individual countries or Member Institutes with limited sharing. ARCASIA is in a unique position to provide a platform to help expedite sharing of knowledge and expertise among countries.


The ARCASIA Emergency Architects (AEA) collaborated with ACSR and formed the COVID19 Taskforce to establish a framework which supports the architects’ community as well as general support in various aspects.  The program is as follows:

  1. Questionnaire (27 April – 3 May 2020)
  2. Virtual Engagement Meeting (8 May 2020)
  3. Workshop (12 September 2020)
  4. Webinar (21 November 2020)
  5. Guidelines / Booklet (December 2020)


A questionnaire with 8 questions was sent to all 21 Member Institutes, and we received responses from 17.  The questions covered concerns confronting architects and our relationship with the community both in the short and the long term.  The results were analyzed and presented in the Virtual Engagement Meeting held on 8 May 2020.

Virtual Engagement Meeting:

The Virtual Engagement Meeting was attended by representatives from all 21 Member Institutes.  In the meeting, the following were covered.

1.​ A snap-shot of where each country trended in the development of the pandemic in their respective countries.

2.​ Results and Insights from the Members Institutes Survey

3.​ Next steps.

1. Trending Conditions of each country.

A Snap-shot (3 May 2020) of data on the trending of the number of cases (cumulative and active) was used to describe which phase each country is in (fig 1).

Basically, there were three phases which had been identified.

A. Spreading Phase: Total Case rising / Active Case rising (fig 2)

B. Moderating Phase: Total Case rising but flattening / Active Case falling (fig 3)

C. Recovering Phase: Total Cases flattened / Active Case falling (fig 4)

The data was useful as the needs to deal with the pandemic differed from phase to phase.  For example, the focus of the Spreading Phase was (among all other measures) racing to provide medical facilities to meet the growing demand, whereas in the Recovery Phase (again among all other things!) was more on Border Control.

The respective countries in each phase as of 3 May 2020 is listed below:

Spreading Phase (9): Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka.

Moderating Phase  (4): Bhutan, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar

Recovering Phase (8): Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Macau., S. Korea, Thailand, Vietnam.

We can see that 4 months into the pandemic, there was a variety of different countries in different phases.

However, we all know now that changes in the situation could be fast and exponential.  We took another look at it on 5 September 2020 (fig. 5) and we found that in 4 months, the situation deteriorated very quickly, particularly for ARCASIA Countries (versus Worldwide).

a. Total Cumulative Cases increased 23.9 times (7.7 times worldwide)

b. Total Active Cases increased more than 11.4 times (3.3 times worldwide).

c. Total Death increased almost 11.1 times (3.6 times worldwide).

c. While there was an improvement in some of the countries, some got worse and saw a resurging. Hence a fourth category was introduced.

D. 2nd Wave Phase: Total Case/Active Case risen/fall again, forming double peak. (fig. 6)

With better knowledge on how to manage the pandemic, quite a few countries managed to move from spreading to moderating phase, or even recover phase, but recovery was fragile, many moved on to have a resurgence and hence fall under category D.  People’s physical interaction would still be limited for a considerable length of time.

The respective countries in each phase as of 5 September 2020 is listed below:

Spreading Phase (5), India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines,

Moderating Phase (2): Bangladesh, Pakistan,

Recovering Phase (7): Brunei, China, Laos, Macau., Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand,

Resurging Phase (7):  Bhutan, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, S. Korea, Sri Lanka, Vietnam.

Questionnaire Results

The questionnaire was sent to all 21 member institutes in late April 2020.  17 out of the 21 members replied.  Results are summarized as follows.  As ARCASIA’s members have a very diversified and fundamentally different economic and cultural background, the list is a collection of member’s views with common points, if any, highlighted.  (i.e., we chose to be inclusive of all comments rather than seeking the common points).  This should not be read as a generalization of ARCASIA as a whole.

Q1/ What are the top 3 challenges facing your country with respect to COVID19 for now and in the foreseeable future?

Member’s reply in this is quite consistent.

  • The area that members were most concerned about was the Economy, mainly on Development and Property.
  • Closely following were Social Well-being, in particular food, settlement, and migrants;
  • Also of significance were in the area of Health, both individual and public, as well as Resources and Expertise in this healthcare.
  • Other areas of concern included Governance/Leadership/Stakeholders/Policies; and Regulations on Safety and Security.
  • Also mentioned were Education in terms of Upskilling to cope and the Training required, Alternative Platforms to operate such as Digital and ICT, as well as Stability of the Political Situation in some countries.

Q2/ What are the lessons learned so far in your country?

The responses varied and were equally spread over the following topics:

  • Emergency Preparedness – on policy to encourage preparedness, early detection and continuous monitoring.
  • Self-awareness and Innovation – On hygiene and cleanliness (obviously), and the need to deal with the New Normal through creative design, talents, and adopting digital technology;
  • Resilient Economy – in terms of adequacy, self-sufficient health care facilities, and resources that are not reliant on foreign import.
  • Good Leadership – It was found that under such times obedience and adherence to the law was helpful, and confidence and trust in the government and evidence-based science was key.
  • Social Responsibility/Equity/Accessibility/Humanity/Caring and Welfare were seen as especially important at such difficult times;
  • Significance of a robust Infrastructure, Network, and Supply Chain of basic necessities such as food and health care essentials were significant.

Q3/ What are architects in your country working on or being involved in the built environment to fight against COVID19 for now and in the foreseeable future?

There are some very logical trends in the responses.

  • Naturally, architects’ expertise is needed in Immediate Relief Work and Construction.
  • Architects also practiced Remote Working, and spent time Preparing Guidelines and Directives, and Working on Community Initiatives.
  • Some worked on providing Financial Assistance to those needed.

Q4/ What are architects in your country offering/volunteering to the community in helping people in need for now and in the foreseeable future?

The area Architects involved in fulfilling their social responsibility were spread evenly out on several topics.

  • The majority volunteered on Immediate and Long-term Relief, while
  • Quite a number worked on Research, Campaigns and Services, Preparing Guidelines and Directives and some provided Financial Assistance.
  • To a lesser extent, some participated in organizing Surveys, Webinars, and Special Working Groups on a voluntary basis.

Q5/ What information/assistance do architects in your country need the most for now and in the foreseeable future?

Under such an unprecedented situation, the first thing architects want is Knowledge in multiple areas.

  • First and foremost, Knowledge in Practice as well as on Healthcare Facilities, Sustainable Design and Construction.
  • Also of equal importance was Support to continued Survival of the Practices, hence Financial Assistance and Advice or knowledge, as well as opportunities in the New Normal were much needed.
  • Both needs call for Guidelines, and a Hub for Information Sharing.

Q6/ Where and how do you think Technology can help the built environment with this fight for now and in the long run, what are their limitations and what do we need to do to achieve that?

Very clearly the majority thinks COVID19 would bring changes that required technology both in terms of design and construction.

  • First and foremost, the ability to work remotely online to support design and construction was the key.
  • Online Collaboration, Eco-friendly Design was also what people look for with the help of technology.
  • People also saw opportunities in advancing application in ventilation, construction technology, methodology, and material.
  • VR, IoT, Digitization, Big Data, and 5G were the specific new technology that people mentioned.

Q7/ What do you see are the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that will change the built environment for now and in the long term?

There is no doubt that everyone agreed that there would be a significant change.

  • What stood out clearly are the impact on Health, Safety and a Healthy Built Environment.
  • The need for Social Distancing and application of Standard Operating Procedure in construction as well as building management would prevail.

Other suggestions included:

  • The need for Disaster Management and Preparedness in both built and natural environment,
  • The acceleration in the use of technology particularly in remote working and collaboration,
  • The upgrading of services infrastructure such as internet bandwidth,
  • Newer design in urban design, landscape architecture, interiors, conservation and architecture were expected, and so would associated regulations, particularly in consideration of high-rise vs. low-rise.
  • There would also be a revival of economy supported by the built environment towards the ease of doing business.

Q8/ What policy change should architects propose to the government to manage a similar crisis both for now and in the long term?

The suggestions were rather comprehensive and covered many aspects beyond just buildings. These included:

  • Migration shift from Urban to Rural for balanced economy;
  • Decentralize saturated land use along with healthcare facilities;
  • Support the building industry through newer job opportunities, loans or subsidies, in the economic revival in building industry;
  • Change in design guidelines such as zoning laws, building safety regulations, urban planning…etc.
  • Guidance in building management to manage emergencies,
  • Promoting digitization and technology in integrated engineering and architectural design and construction;
  • Upgrade infrastructure facilities like soiled/waste/surface water management, power, data cabling, internet bandwidth…etc.
  • Invest in the research of responsive urban design/architectural model that adapts to climate change, natural disaster, and epidemic;
  • Involve professional community (architects) in the planning process.

Next Step:

Based on the results of this survey as well as the Virtual Engagement Meeting, the AEA/ACSR Covid-19 Taskforce believed what we need now is equip our architects with more relevant guidelines, and for them to be able to use it to communicate with the general public to improve their knowledge, as well as with policymakers in a hope to influence positive change in policy.  Further research is being done at the moment, and a workshop has been organized on 12 September in which expert input will also be sought from Medical Practitioner, City Planner, Policy Maker as well as Conservation Architect, and Member Institutes have an opportunity to provide their input.  It is planned to complete the Guidelines and launched in a public webinar on 21 November 2020.



Ar. Russell Dandeniya, Ar. B. Sudhir, Ar. Kosala Weerasekara, Ar. Kentis Beh, Ar. Thomas Cheung as organizing committee the Virtual Engagement Meeting. Ar. Thana Chirapiwat, Ar. Norwina Mohd Nawawi, Ar. Suraj Khanal, Ar. Manguesh R Prabhugaonker, for conducting the research.


Author:   Tony S.F. Wong, Director. AEA