Eating out in the time of Covid: New York-based designers re-imagine dining space

"Adaptive Boundaries," designed by Indian American Sanjana Paramhans and Pakistani American Neha Sadruddin.
“Adaptive Boundaries,” designed by Indian American Sanjana Paramhans and Pakistani American Neha Sadruddin.

The design of Indian American Sanjana Paramhans and Pakistani American Neha Sadruddin was a winner at the “Regen Dining Competition.”

The pandemic has caused major shifts in the way we live, work and interact with one another. While Covid-19 has impacted nearly every sector of the economy, one of the worst-affected is the dining-in industry.

In response to the new Covid-imposed limits faced by the restaurant industry in a post pandemic world, Indian American Sanjana Paramhans and Pakistani American Neha Sadruddin recently came up with a new design that serves as an indoor fine dining restaurant.

Sanjana Paramhans
Sanjana Paramhans

The project, “Adaptive Boundaries,” won the first prize in the “Regen Dining Competition,” challenged designers to come up with a redesign, restructuring, reforming, or reorganization of an existing restaurant to accommodate post-Covid regulations. It imagines a near future where social interaction has evolved to adapt to a new normal of expanded personal boundaries and physical distance.

Paramhans, an alumnus of the Pratt Institute, is an aspiring social designer. She is currently pursuing MFA from University of Arts London.  New York City-based Sadruddin works at Bjarke Ingels Group as a BIM Coordinator. They talked to the American Bazaar about their new project and the new post-Covid world order.

Tell us briefly about your project, the idea behind it, and why it is important, especially, in the times that would follow post Covid?

Due to the pandemic, fine dining restaurants have suffered significant losses as they struggle to serve the same level of hospitality and comfort while also ensuring the safety of their customers — not to mention the devastating loss of jobs and neighborhood staple institutions. The design strives to retain the social aspect of dining in a public space and maintain the restaurants’ ambiance and quality of hospitality while providing flexibility and transparency in their typical operations.

Both of you have a background in architecture and social work. How would you say it impacts the world we are currently living in?

Neha Sadruddin
Neha Sadruddin

Sanjana: I think architecture has a massive impact on our social construct, especially in the times we are currently living. The rapid spread of Covid-19 has prompted many in the design community to reconsider their lives’ work and what it means to design for a world that will never be the same, particularly when it comes to how we meet in and use wide public spaces. For instance, when cholera ravaged the New York City in the summer of 1832, it took the lives of 3,500 people in just a few weeks. The epidemic was blamed on dirty streets. Although cholera claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world, the disease’s aftermath resulted in discoveries in public sanitation and urban design interventions with a lasting impact on the built environment we live in till today.

READ: ‘Design is an enabler of social change’ (July 15, 2017)

Neha: Architecture is about articulating meaningful interaction within a space, and hence, in a way, informs social behavior. The pandemic has caused major shifts in the way we live, work and, more importantly, interact with others. Not to mention the paranoia that kicks in when we step outside our homes. Design, therefore, has an important role to play in enabling us to effectively adapt to this new normal, understanding and accepting it.

You talk about design as an enabler of social change. This sounds like a refreshing thought,  how would you explain this.

Sanjana: Designing for social change isn’t just about making beautiful items for a charitable cause, or selling fun merchandise and contributing a part of the proceeds to charity. In its purest form, designing for social impact involves imagining the impact you want to and can have on a group or a community through their built environment. For example, substandard housing, excessive noise, a lack of natural light in homes, poorer physical quality in urban neighborhoods, and other factors have all been related to increased physiological and psychological stress. Although, sadly, despite this evidence, there remains a disconnect between building designers and building users in modern urban societies, which could intensify the issue.

Take us through the process of ideating, preparing, and prepping for the idea and what is your future vision.

Fine dining spaces are a typology where users spend a significant amount of time outside their homes. Since they were one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic, we conducted a survey to understand the apprehensions of customers when dining out and address these concerns so as to better equip restaurants to regain their customers’ trust.

Given that the past year has seen an emergence and re-emergence of Covid-19 globally, we imagine the near future to continue seeing multiple resurgences of the virus such that social interaction will evolve to adapt to a new normal of expanded personal boundaries and physical distance. In addition, the periodic tightening and easing of Covid-19 regulations call for indoor dining spaces to be flexible in their accommodation and transparent in their operations.

To achieve this, we designed a module of expandable, multi-layered, translucent screens to function as a partition and physical demarcation of the required distance between dining groups, as well as, to serve as a design feature within the restaurant. The translucency of acrylic panels provides a sufficient level of privacy and they can be flexed, along a ceiling-mounted track to accommodate the varying distance requirements, up to a maximum of six feet (the most stringent requirement by the Center for Disease Control). Indoor circulation is also informed by the positioning of these modules by clearly demarcating way-finding aisles for users to navigate through the space. Additionally, to address the increase in pick-up and delivery from restaurants, the design attempts to streamline this service by designating a portion of the space for it near the entrance.

The challenge of making a space adaptive called for modularity. We imagine these panels to not only be scalable but also be customizable, and hence, compatible with the restaurants’ original design and character.


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