An Architect’s Guide to Creating Safe Polling Places

Despite the popularity of mail-in voting in the US this year, millions of people will still be voting in-person at the polls in less than a week. According to the CDC, people who vote in-person on a single day are at higher risk for COVID-19 because of the larger crowds and longer wait times. With that in mind, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is hoping that election administrators take advantage of their recently released “safe polling place” resource guide.

As we’ve already seen, thoughtful design can help reduce the chances of exposure to COVID-19.To help protect everyone at the polls, AIA’s resource guide “provides architectural, engineering, operational and administrative strategies that election administrators and polling place workers can employ—as well as modify—for polling places and voting centers.”

Example Polling Place Modified To Reduce Transmission Risk Of Covid-19 / From AIA.org

AIA created the guidelines using a combination of the latest public health information and their own research found in the “Re-Occupancy Assessment Tool.” The 3D illustrations, which were produced by the design firm Corgan—give clear examples for how to use the strategies in places large and small.

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Pepperdine’s Architecture And Fire Safety

Pepperdine has developed a shelter-in-place policy with close collaboration with the Los Angeles County Fire Department that allows students to remain on campus for a range of disasters, including the Woolsey Fire that hit California last fall.

The policy was developed after a close encounter with a wild fire in 1985 and has been implemented for every fire since 1993. Another key reason that Pepperdine took more preventative measures was how close they are to the Pacific Coast Highway. If Malibu residents are ordered an evacuation, gridlock becomes a big issue especially since a lot of students may not have vehicles.

Pepperdine’s best defense against wild fires is the campus design itself. Its architect was William Pereira, who was based in Los Angeles. Pereira was commissioned to create a master plan for Malibu in 1965, but the plan was never made public. Instead he was able revisit his ideas with Pepperdine years later when they gave him the opportunity.

Curbed describes the campus as “Mediterranean modern: angular cast-concrete volumes situated around wide concrete plazas with spectacular ocean vistas.” The campus structures make good use of fire-resistant decorative materials like glass and ceramic. Even the shape of the buildings with steep Spanish-tile rooflines helps ensure that fire won’t get trapped beneath the eaves. Of Pepperdine’s 830 acres—500 acres have no structure. Pereira’s vision for the campus included dense clustering of buildings to maintain open spaces. He also preserved a meadow and designed a water infrastructure to recycle waste water and store it on site.


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