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How new insights in hygiene with the global outbreak of the coronavirus will change the design of public spaces in the 21st century.


The Covid-19 virus is causing a global economic crisis which is larger than any crisis we have seen since the Second World War. The damage is that large, it will change business cases when it comes to the design of public spaces. Major questions will arise about how a future pandemic can be prevented. New insights in hygiene create opportunities to rethink how we interact with our public spaces.


We are now learning that the virus does not exclusively spread via direct human contact, sneezing or coughing, it also survives on plastics and metals. In 1982 Oxford published a research showing an influenza A or B virus remains alive for 24 to 48 hours on a smooth solid surface. After you touch a contaminated surface, the virus remains alive on your hands for 5 minutes (Bean, 1982). When you touch your face within that time, you could infect yourself.


The contact we have with our surroundings might contribute to the spread of a virus. This insight is a major bottleneck for both public health and the economy. To reduce spread we need to redesign public spaces — in a way that we can use it without using our hands.

Source: Survival Of Influenza Viruses On Environmental Surfaces. B. Bean, Journal of Infectious diseases, Vol. 146(1), 47-51, 1982


Neo Hygiene is not just increasing hygiene. It is also about using new design assignments that come with it as an opportunity to increase the quality of life. A doom scenario for how we are going to deal with the design of public spaces would be when public spaces become museums with the signs 'do not touch' everywhere. For new product interactions, it is important we don’t look only at preventing touch, but rather at creative alternatives for touch.


With current lock downs all over the world, we face how limiting it can be to have a society which is not prepared for a pandemic. Neo Hygiene is about creating conditions to move freely in public thus increasing hygiene. We will swift from designing spaces based on manual touching to bodily touching. Public space design makes us use our elbows, shoulders, legs and feet when interacting with our environment.


Status quo: Buttons and handles designed to be used by our hands


Neo Hygiene: public spaces are designed to be used with everything but our hands

Video of Enrichers featuring the following design concepts:
1. Lean On Me Traffic Light Button
2. Dance Hall Pin Code ATM
3. Motion detection with automated doors and curtain
4. Automated UV Light Cleans Transfers of Goods

Music: Delta 5 - Mind Your Own Business

LeanOnMe-trafficlight copy.jpg


When it comes to increasing user satisfaction, it is important to facilitate environmental enrichment. One important change of Neo Hygiene is to explore product and spatial design based on non-manual interactions. Nevertheless people have a biological need to touch things. When we design places that cannot be touched, it is important to replace 'touch' (somatosensory)  with another enriching element.


Movement (motor) is such an element. By designing buttons that can be controlled with body movements, we keep on facilitating the biological need of people to move. For example a traffic light used with a 'lean on me' button. By leaning shoulders on the button, one can avoid touching the surface with your hands in case a virus hits society.

Ziggy Pictures & Govert Flint - Creatures With Creations & Their Segregation Of Joy (2014)


On-off buttons seem easy to replace with a bodily interface. But what are we going to do with touch screens and keyboards of vending machines, ticket boxes and ATM's? Motion sensors are available for typing without touching the keyboard. An example is Leap Motion. The motion sensor reads the fingers and creates a virtual skeleton to understand what movements the hands and fingers are making. The sensor virtually understands which button you press with which finger. These gestural interfaces can become the standard for ATMs, vending and ticket machines. It will make us feel like being in Steven Spielbergs' movie Minority Report in which Tom Cruise controls his computer by moving his hands in the air.

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Leaning spots in a train. Designed by Puur & Ruimte for NS (2017)


Rather than holding onto a pole, buses, trains, and metros will be designed to support yourself by leaning against something. Horizontal supports and cushions can provide support for busy metro lines. Although it will be a design challenge to place horizontal bars on aisles. For example, how do you pull a support out of a pole without using your hands for it?


An added advantage of having support spots is that the locations of travelers are predictable. For most scenarios, operators will know where the users leans and in which direction their faces look. In the event of an imminent virus, these spots can be equipped with screens to prevent people from sneezing or coughing towards fellow commuters.

Elephunk table by Alissa+Nienke with Enrichers (2016)



It is in our nature to use our hands. Our hands are equipped with many nerves, which allows us to make very accurate observations with our hands. From a biological point of view we will remain the need to feel with our hands. When more products are designed to be used with other body parts in public spaces and transport, more attention will be devoted to designing experiences for the hands in semi-private places.


In the 20th century it became the norm to use tiles in toilets, bathrooms and kitchens. A tile is easy to clean and thus promotes hygiene. In the second half of 20th century plastic table tops became the norm in shared spaces like schools and offices. Until now, we consider a surface to be hygienic if we can easily clean it with a cloth. But when you look at the time a virus survives on surfaces, it survives much shorter on porous materials like cotton and paper. A virus on a porous material remains contagious for 15 minutes, compared to 24 hours on a solid smooth surface (Bean, 1982).


For hotels, offices and homes we will engineer ultra-porous surfaces during the Neo Hygiene to be a sensation for the fingers. Textures which feel like fur could become more hygienic than our current 'hygienic' tiles. During the Neo Hygiene we will develop a new notion about what 'clean' materials are.


The research on the Neo Hygiene is ongoing. After having read a broad range of publications, we created this design tool to understand what  can be of influence related to the pandemic and in what directions solutions can be found. The diagram below is a work in progress and requires refinement. In case you have feedback, please let us know.


The scheme is split into two parts: symptoms and source. On the symptoms-side are factors mentioned which are important to limit the spread of the virus. On the source-side are the elements mentioned which play a major role as a source.


The inner ring contains the hosts of the virus. Hosts of viruses are microbes themselves, animals and people. Viruses can also be carried by air and surfaces. Traffic can be perceived as a host as something which can bring the virus into a region. Causes are categories of situations which increase the risk to contaminate. Solutions are directions you can take to lower the risk for an outbreak of a virus.

NeoHygiene-scheme copy.jpg

Neo Hygiene Working Model (in progress) by Enrichers, April 2020





The Covid-19 virus is one microbe out of many millions which live in creatures. There are also microbes which protect us from viruses. As a host of all types of microbes, it is important we keep our (personal) microbial communities diverse and balanced (Sommer, 2017). Our resilience towards a virus is partly depending on its ecology.


With a decline of biodiversity of animals, there is an increased risk an entire species is affected. This could make the entire ecosystem weaker and more fragile towards viruses. A vaccination is an example of adding a virus in a controlled way to an ecosystem to increase resilience.


Source: Sommer, The resilience of the intestinal microbiota influences health and disease, Nature Reviews Microbiology volume 15, pages 630–638 (2017)



Microbes stay often with a species and most of the time a virus is not harmful for a certain animal. A virus can become harmful when it finds a new host. Viruses like SARS, Covid-19, HIV, Mexican flu and Ebola already existed in animals before they found a human as a new host.


When animals are put in situations where their body liquids can exchange with other species it can break out and find a new host. Places where people slaughter wild animals are an increased risk for people to get in contact with a new virus. Not only wild animals can be a host of a virus. Also cattle can get infected. High density captivation of animals increases the risk of a virus to spread. Also in Western countries with high hygiene standards in farms, it still happens a new virus spreads itself along its cattle.


The risk of a new virus entering society is very little. But when many groups of people are connected in a global network, the plausibility of a pandemic increases. Another side effect is that air pollution which is mainly contributed by industry and traffic makes people their longs weaker. With Covid-19 a part of people at the intensive care already suffered from long diseases caused by air pollution. A society effected by air pollution might be less resilient to a virus.

When it comes to trade and intercontinental flights, policy might help to prevent a virus from spreading to other countries.



A viruses can spread through air. When body liquids are produced, air can be a medium. Most common it's about coughs, but also feces and vomit can contain high concentrations of viruses too. With the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong, one high rise building got infected due to a leak in the sewage system (Hung, 2003). At cafes, pubs and events extra attention could be given to toilets considering people might also vomit there in case they got too much alcohol. There are papers showing how ionizing air can limit the spread of a virus with air as its medium (Estola, 1979). Ironically enough the device to ionize the air with is called a 'Corona discharge'.


- The SARS epidemic in Hong Kong: what lessons have we
learned? Lee Shiu Hung, J R Soc Med 2003; 96:374–378

- Timo Estola, The effect of air ionization on the air-borne transmission of experimental Newcastle disease virus infections in chickens, J. Hyg., Camb. (1979), 83, 59 59


Once a new virus found a human host, it can spread human to human. Personal hygiene and the way we interact are factors indicating how quick and how far it spreads.


A virus can remain alive on a surface. Usually this is not a threat because the risk is very low the virus remained contagious as soon it is transferred by your hands. But in places where many different people use the same surfaces frequently this risk increases. Apart from the product interactions mentioned earlier on this page, touching of a surface could also be an opportunity to clean hands of people. By supplying its surface with a sterilizer, a door handle could become a tool to limit the spread of a virus instead of a cause. UV light might also help to clean surfaces.


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Pandemic proof traffic light button

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