Architecture to Prevent the Next Pandemic, by Pitamber Kaushik

Pitamber Kaushik is a writer, interdisciplinary researcher, journalist, and columnist, having previously been published in over 60 publications in 31 countries. His work has appeared in a number of dailies, periodicals, magazines, journals, and web media-outlets.

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Abstract

The article discusses the potential role that architectural planning can play in preventing zoonotic epidemics such as the COVID-19. It sheds light on the high levels of disease and infection risks that modern, prevalent means and sites of animal farming and sale pose, and proposes how design intervention can systematically ameliorate them.

Introduction

The ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic also known as COVID-19 continues to cause pervasive loss of life and disruption in human activity. It has adversely affected various socioeconomic processes and interactions. Its indirect consequences, ripple effects, and dire disruptive ramifications are estimated to last for several years. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 is caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). [1]

Existing evidence strongly and consistently suggests that the disease is Zoonotic in origin. [2] While we are yet to have clarity on the exact specifics of the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the increasing risks of pandemic-potential zoonotic infections as well as the zoonotic origins of a number of past epidemics, including the closely-related original SARS-CoV and the destructive Spanish Flu, are well-established. [3,4,5,6]

 

Intensive Animal Farming

Intensive Animal Farming or Industrial Livestock Production, popularly known as “Factory Farming” is an intensive agricultural approach that seeks to maximise the production to cost ratio. The method has often been criticised for being negligent towards ethics and sustainability. [7] Intensive Animal Farming involves storage of live animals and their products in very high stocking densities, permitting little freedom of movement for the animals for prolonged periods of time. The animals are frequently crammed in the very diminutive and restrictive, hard-material enclosures that are often filthy and squalid. This forces the animals to stay in frequent and extremely close physical contact with each other and their secretions and waste products, creating a constant heightened risk of disease, infection, and rapid transmission. This overcrowding also results in conflict, mood disruptions, behavioural crises, physical pain, and mental agony, which often lead to the release of stress hormones. Abnormally high levels of endocrinal secretions in the animal’s body not only lead to taste and nutrient changes or potential spoilage in its products but also compromise the animal’s disease resistance by adversely affecting its immune system. Moreover, the lack of natural freedoms of movement also hampers the animal’s immunological development, in addition to inhibiting its general wellbeing.

Further, contrary to more traditional, natural, and organic methods of animal farming, industrial intensive animal farms have low genetic diversities and gene flows due to repeated selective breeding for desirable traits, for a few, select, fine specimens, a very limited pool of fertile animals frequently used to inseminate and reproduce because they represent ideal templates of the animals required for the particular purpose. This lack translates to high likelihood of congenital ailments and a general lack of immune robustness, which makes them prone to not only contracting zoonotic infections but also providing fertile breeding grounds in their bodies for infectious strains to multiply, mutate, and evolve. This furnishes ample scope of development, proliferation, and transmission of novel strains. Lack of domestic biodiversity ensures that any ailments spread at an overwhelming pace among populations, due to individual immune responses being nearly identical. [8,9,10,11,12]

 

Wet Wildlife Markets

There initially was widespread backlash against the wet wildlife markets of Wuhan, which are, as of now, the most likely point of the outbreak. Wet Markets sell a wide variety of bushmeat and live, animals caught from the wild. While wild-animals have greater genetic diversity and are relatively robust, their variety and territorial expansiveness, put them at a higher likelihood of picking up new pathogens. While domesticated and bred animals are at a higher likelihood of falling victim to the disease, wild animals serve as the original reservoirs and asymptomatic carriers of such diseases. Most wet markets of South Asia are extremely cramped, crowded with people, animals, and produce and flowing with animal fluids and wastes, including blood from fresh slaughter. The infrastructure of such markets mostly comprises of close-packed, hastily put-together, haphazard, pell-mell, temporary and semipermanent stalls piled with produce. [13,14] The catch here is that wet-markets in China often don’t get wild animals from the wild, that is forests or their respective natural habitats, per se, but rather procure them from devoted farms that serve as intensive breeding and raising centers for exotic, undomesticated faunal species, otherwise considered wild. [15]

Systematic Architectural Planning and Implementation to Mitigate Zoonotic Risks

Architectural intervention can help both animal farms and wet markets become more organised, safer, and less stressful for both humans and animals. The zoonotic potential of agriculture can be greatly curtailed by means of architectural planning. Animals Farms and Wet Markets have consistently lacked agricultural innovation and their structure solely relies on generic plans aimed at indiscriminately extracting maximum production from minimal investment. These barebones warehouse-like templates are simply implemented in almost all such units.

The mechanisation and consequent industrial intensification of animal farming disregard the virtue of animals as living beings treating them solely as factors of the production process. Inadequate or improper lighting is a major issue with factory farms, as is ventilation. [8,16,17] A reorganisation of the housing units and structures in a way that permits shared mobility would go a long way in improving the well-being of the animals. Factory farms lack curvilinear structures and are based on blocky, rectilinear close-packed units which pose more acute obstruction, hindrance, and sense of confinement than curvilinear spaces of the same perimeters. Remodelling various confines and partitions curvilinearly would increase the accessibility and comfortability of such spaces. Axis-discriminate arrangement of storage cells in non-overlapping, alternately, or progressively shifted spatial arrangements and configurations can minimise direct and sustained contact and hence organic and potentially pathological exchange and transmission among various units.

Fish, poultry, and meat markets need to be converted into spaces with a planned, organised, and systematic structure, with consistent minimum spacing, and appropriate, adequately-wide and interconnected accessible routes and intersections to traverse them. Further, each shop unit should have separate and away-facing inlets for wild animals and closed slaughter spaces that drain away from consumer fronts via covered and enclosed channels. This will prevent virulent animal fluids from coming in contact with the shoppers, greatly ameliorating the chances of infection. Similar, systematic, and ergonomic solid waste and byproduct disposal system and apparatus ought to be incorporated in the shop design to rid of discarded animal parts securely. The shopfront itself should limit the physical interaction and exchange between the shopkeeper and the customer to a single-window counter of the kiosk, preferably by means of transparent physical barriers. Rain, which has the potential to spread, amass, and fester the waste products should also be taken into account, and adequate provisions made for its streamlining and channelisation so that stagnation does not occur. While bearing mind the importance of ready availability of self-evident fresh produce, provisions for quick, clean, and confined slaughter should be made readily and promptly accessible and the overall architecture should encourage stalls and kiosks to be discrete, more disjoint and autonomous units. Yet, the overall market should be more accessible, to customers, and regulatory authorities and officials alike, so that the maintenance of good ethical and hygiene standards can be scrutinised. The confined-away rear of the shop allocated for slaughtering and disposal shouldn’t be very cloistered and locked out of sight, only securely partitioned away, preferably by a solid, transparent barrier. While keeping exposure to byproducts at the minimum is the foremost priority, it is also indispensable to the same cause to ensure safe drainage and disposal of the same, away from any adjoining residential areas. The availability of ample ventilation and sunlight in each individual unit is very important to maintain hygiene. Traditional animal and meat markets lack this provision for all but the outermost of shops  Hence, innovative space planning that goes beyond simple rectilinear block-grid packing is a pressing necessity.

With both retrospect and foresight, as well as systematic consideration of existing scientific and psychological evidence, architecture can turn animal farming and marketing into a more safe, secure, and responsible experience, for both the individual and the community.

 

References

[1] “Coronavirus: World Health Organisation Says the Virus May Never Go Away,” The Hindu, May 14, 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/coronavirus-may-never-go-away-warns-who/article31578415.ece.

[2] World Health Organisation, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 94 (WHO, 2020)

[3] Pike, B. L., Saylors, K. E., Fair, J. N., LeBreton, M., Tamoufe, U., Djoko, C. F., Rimoin, A. W. and Wolfe, N. D., The Origin and Prevention of Pandemics, Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 50, no. 12, pp. 1636–40, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/652860, June 15, 2010. DOI: 10.1086/652860

[4] Taubenberger, J. K., The origin and virulence of the 1918 “Spanish” influenza virus. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 150, pp. 86–112, 2006. PMCID: PMC2720273, NIHMSID: NIHMS123030, PMID: 17526158

[5] “1918 Pandemic (H1N1 Virus),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 20, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html.

[6] Zhu, N., Zhang, D., Wang, W., Li, X., Yang, B., Song, J., Zhao, X., Huang, B., Shi, W., Lu, R., Niu, P., Zhan, F., Ma, X., Wang, D., Xu, W., Wu, G., Gao, G. F., Tan, W., & China Novel Coronavirus Investigating and Research Team (2020). A Novel Coronavirus from Patients with Pneumonia in China, 2019. The New England journal of medicine, 382(8), 727–733. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2001017

[7] Appleby, M. C., Sustainable Agriculture Is Humane, Humane Agriculture Is Sustainable, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 293–303, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10806-005-1490-9, May 2005. DOI: 10.1007/s10806-005-1490-9

[8] Williams, C., “The Detriments of Factory Farming” (2018). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 462. https://dc.etsu.edu/honors/ 462

[9] “Inhumane Practices on Factory Farms.” Animal Welfare Institute, Accessed August 29, 2020. https://awionline.org/content/inhumane-practices-factory-farms.

[10] Graham, J. P., Leibler, J. H., Price, L. B., Otte, J. M., Pfeiffer, D. U., Tiensin, T. and Silbergeld, E. K., The Animal-Human Interface and Infectious Disease in Industrial Food Animal Production: Rethinking Biosecurity and Biocontainment, Public Health Reports, vol. 123, no. 3, pp. 282–99, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/003335490812300309, May 2008. DOI: 10.1177/003335490812300309

[11] “Industrial Animal Farming ‘Has Caused Most New Viruses and Risks Further Pandemics’.” Accessed August 29, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/coronavirus-meat-animal-farming-pandemic-disease-wet-markets-a9505626.html.

[12] Scott, J., “Biodiversity Loss Is Hurting Our Ability to Combat Pandemics.” World Economic Forum. Accessed August 29, 2020. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/biodiversity-loss-is-hurting-our-ability-to-prepare-for-pandemics/

[13] Maron, D. F., “’Wet Markets’ Likely Launched the Coronavirus. Here’s What You Need to Know.” ‘Wet markets’ launched the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know., July 20, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/04/coronavirus-linked-to-chinese-wet-markets/.

[14] Webster, R. G., Wet Markets—a Continuing Source of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Influenza?, The Lancet, vol. 363, no. 9404, pp. 234–36, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(03)15329-9, January 2004. DOI: 10.1016/s0140-6736(03)15329-9

[15] “Coronavirus Closures Reveal Vast Scale of China’s Secretive Wildlife Farm Industry,” February 25, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/25/coronavirus-closures-reveal-vast-scale-of-chinas-secretive-wildlife-farm-industry.

[16] Anomaly, J., What’s Wrong With Factory Farming?, Public Health Ethics, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 246–54, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/phe/phu001, February 7, 2014. DOI: 10.1093/phe/phu001

[17] Selman, J. J., “Regenerative Agriculture Infrastructure Design: The Built Environment of Food, Culture, & Soil” (2010). Masters Theses 1911 – February 2014. 468. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umass.edu/theses/468

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