The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.

From SARS to COVID-19 and beyond: public health lessons for buildings

Share this Post:

Photo by Nextvoyage from Pexels

The built environment has a fundamental role in maintaining public health. What lessons has Hong Kong applied to reduce the spread of contagion?

An important function of the built environment is providing a safe place for its inhabitants.  Edward Ng (Chinese University of Hong Kong) recalls the spread of SARS in Hong Kong and reflects on the public health lessons for the built environment. A process of preparation and management is vital for reducing present and future health risks. This is becoming evident in Hong Kong’s recent codes and regulations for urban design and buildings. Other cities can learn from this process.


After the SARS episode subsided, one of the Commission’s recommendations was that outdoor air circulation should be factored into future planning and design practices.  The other recommendation was that planners should evaluate and establish the city’s air circulation capacity and its relationship with the city’s development densities and building layouts.  The public health basis for the recommendations was to improve ventilation of indoor and outdoor spaces so as to quickly mix the contaminated air and dilute its germ concentration, and thereby prevent spread of disease due to cross contamination in confined spaces (Nielsen, 2009; McKinney et al., 2006). 


COVID-19 is currently a health emergency influencing the way we live. Lessons from how the HKSAR Government fought SARS are currently being applied.


How can our buildings and cities be designed to provide mentally healthy spaces to cope with future episodes?  Isolation and quarantine may be necessary during a pandemic, but are unpleasant and difficult experiences. Environmental psychologists have pointed to three key built environmental provisions that are spatially related: “social interaction”, “nature & openness” and “exercise”. 


Read the full article here.