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Pandemic doesn't mean ‘death of cities’, says urban designer

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Hala El Akl
Hala El Akl   -   Copyright  euronews
By Damon Embling

The global pandemic has turned our professional and personal lives upside down and got us thinking about our health in more ways than one.

For London-based urban designer and architect, Hala El Akl, it has exposed the link between where we live and work, and our personal wellbeing.

As a Director of PLP Architecture and founding member of disruptive, design research hub PLP Labs, this is a big focus.

"I think we need a bit of distance and space to analyse what has happened this year, what has actually hit us," said Hala, who is originally from Lebanon.

"I don't think we're going to see the death of the city, or the death of the office, or the death of the High Street because there are things we miss when we find ourselves isolated.

"But I think the most important thing is one link that has been confirmed in people's minds; the link between their environment and their health. What we are doing at PLP Labs is developing tools to help improve that understanding and help communities take actions."

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Hala El Akl with Euronews' Damon Emblingeuronews

New technology, like artificial intelligence, has a growing role in designing the cities, homes and offices of tomorrow. Wearables are also being tested out to measure health and wellbeing in workspaces.

"We did some pilots and measured the impact if you're working on your own, if there's more light, if you're surrounded by green spaces," Hala told Euronews.

"I think technology and wearables allow us to precisely measure that connection and not to just say I want to put a green wall here because it's better."

Some fear the robots are coming to take over, but Hala is open-minded when it comes to new technology.

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Hala El Akl and Euronews' Damon Emblingeuronews

"For me, it's a pleasure because it liberates me from the systematic, the repetitive, and allows me to use my brain more strategically," she said.

Sustainability is a theme that runs through Hala's innovative designs, describing the global issue as one of "self-preservation."

"If you look at our work for the last 10 years, there are two things," Hala explained.

"The first one is innovation and disruption. For example, in the residential space, we looked at, you know, the first co-living building in the UK.

"Another example is the largest timber roof in Europe or a building we've designed in the Netherlands called The Edge, which was dubbed the smartest and greenest building in the world," she continued.

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Hala El Akl, urban designer and architecteuronews

"And the second aspect is how do we integrate sustainability to this and over the last 10 years, our key projects have brought this together quite nicely.”