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It’s been over three weeks since our entire office started to work remotely, and it has been a very interesting and varied experience for everyone. On reflection, the aspects of working remotely that I find challenging, in an ongoing way, are not those that I would have anticipated.  

Working remotely has provided me with a new perspective on the role of the city in our lives as citizens and as architects. I see now that from the minute we leave our home in the morning, to when we return in evening, we are in a reciprocal relationship with the city.  For each of us, that relationship is like having a best friend that nourishes and sustains us, and offers us a constant stream of different ideas, cultures and experiences that feed our work. In turn, the city is enriched by the temporal and empirical influences that we emboss on its texture, sound, light and micro-climate. I suspect that the quality and attributes of this relationship is unique to each person and unconsciously constructed to maximize their own positive stimulation.

In the space of a few days, it is as though everyone has lost that relationship and is processing that loss. There’s no daily repartee of beautiful, surprising, or even challenging experiences enriching one’s day. There’s no surprising moment walking down the street that makes you think about something differently. Consequently, I have noticed that the cityscape is deteriorating, almost imperceptibly but consistently, through a lack of use and interface with people doing the millions of things that they do each day on our streets. Suddenly cut off from this relationship, I have found a distinct and growing sense of disengagement from the stuff of life that we talk about all the time when designing. It’s like we have to all work harder to connect ourselves and our bodies with what we are designing and designing for.

There is another dimension of working remotely that is related to this lack of external stimulation: Since everyone has moved home there is, for most of us, a distinct blurring of boundaries between work and personal time and space, particularly for those (the majority in our office) living in small quarters.  The two have folded into each other creating a seamlessness to one’s days and evenings. Regardless of one’s “normal” (pre-Covid) work habits, most people were not literally living in their office environment. I believe this contributes to a perception that day/night and week/weekend form an unrelenting and undifferentiated continuum. The lack of distinct modalities is impacting people’s mental health. Without the antidote of distraction offered by our daily interaction with extended family, friends, co-workers and city life, there appears to be only an inner voice — which is perhaps a bit dark and even fearful — that erodes an otherwise resilient and balanced psychological perspective to the overwhelming context of isolation and pandemic. When we are all reunited at the office, I believe everyone, each in their own way, will be alert to striking a balance between the various elements that make a healthy life. 

Finally, I miss the collaboration and the ease with which I could approach someone in the office and ask them if they have a few minutes to spare to look at something. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed the enormous range of talented people so readily accessible for impromptu discussions and support that exists in our firm. I know we will appreciate the studio environment much more when we are all back together again. 

Janna Levitt is a Partner at Toronto’s LGA Architectural Partners.

Solitary Studio: Reflections on Remote Work From a Toronto Architect

Janna Levitt of LGA Architectural Partners shares the day-to-day challenges – and the lasting lessons – of working from home during COVID-19.

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