Design: A Long Term Preventative Medicine

New York City’s High Line. Image © Iwan Baan

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and MIT’s Center for Advanced has produced a new report examining urban health in eight of the USA’s largest cities, which has been translated into a collection of meaningful findings for architects, designers, and urban planners. With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas – a statistic which is projected to grow to 70% by 2050 – the report hinges around the theory that “massive urbanization can negatively affect human and environmental health in unique ways” and that, in many cases, these affects can be addressed by architects and designers by the way we create within and build upon our cities.

Toward a Fit Nation: 18 Projects that Promote Healthy Lifestyles

© Benjamin Benschneider

From ’s Beltline to Los Angeles’ Spring Street “Parklets,” architecture and design is increasingly more relevant in the fight against obesity and chronic disease, conditions which have reached epidemic levels in the United States. In the article, “Toward a Fit Nation,” the and FitNation identify 18 projects from around the country, ranging from large complexes to temporal installations, that encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyles. The AIA National Headquarters will be curating the FitNation exhibit till January 31, 3014. Read the article here.

Infographic: How Our Cities Are Shaping Us

© Chris Yoon; http://www.behance.net/chrisyoon

Architects and city planners are becoming more and more familiar with the effects of our built environment.  This to-the-point , designed by Chris Yoon, cites a few ways in which mid-20th century city planning trends have contributed to a growing obesity problem in the United States.  This data has alarmed scientists, planners and city officials into stressing the importance of redesigning the physical spaces so as to encourage physical activity and healthy choices.

Peter Williams for Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments (ARCHIVE)

Breathe House; Courtesy of

Peter Williams is the founder and executive director of an organization whose goal is to improve global health, using design to create healthier environments as preventative measures for tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria.  Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments, or ARCHIVE for short, has projects in countries all over the world, including Haiti, Cameroon, and Ethiopia.  ARCHIVE identifies and addresses the causes of poor health in disadvantages communities and uses strategies related to housing design improvements to create environments that promote better health.

The Psychology of Urban Planning

Courtesy of Entasis

Walkability, density, and mixed-use have become key terms in the conversation about designing our cities to promote healthy lifestyles.  In an interview with behavioral psychologist, Dr. James Sallis of the University of California San Diego in The Globe and Mail,  Sallis discusses how his reveals key design elements that encourage physical activity.  In the 20th century, the automobile and new ideals in radically changed the way in which cities were structured.  Residential and commercial areas were divided and highways were built to criss-cross between them.  Suburban sprawl rescued city dwellers from dense urban environments that had gained a reputation for being polluted and dangerous.  In recent decades, planners, policy makers and environmentalists have noted how these seemingly healthy expansions have had an adverse affect on our personal health and the health of our built environment. Today, the conversation is heavily structured around how welcoming density, diversity and physical activity can help ameliorate the negative affects that decades of mid-century planning have had on health. Sallis describes how much of a psychological feat it is to change the adverse habits that have developed over the years and how design, in particular, can help encourage the change.

AIA Releases Roadmap to Healthy Design

Local Leaders: Healthier Communities through Design; via

The AIA is joining numerous other agencies in the promotion of healthy communities through intelligent design choices. A new document: Local Leaders: Healthier Communities through Design is a series of guidelines that offer architects and designers specific methods for the design of buildings and communities that encourage healthy lifestyle choices.

Learn more after the break.

TED Talk: Why Architects Need to Use their Ears / Julian Treasure

In architecture we talk about space and form.  We talk about experience and meaning.  All of these qualities are inextricably the sensory experience of light, touch, smell and sound.  Sound expert Julian Treasure asks architects to consider designing for our ears, citing that the quality of the of a space affect us physiologically, socially, psychologically and behaviorally.

More after the break.

The Transparency Project / Perkins + Will

©2009 Christian Phillips Photography. RWU North Campus Residence Hall, by

Everyday, Americans all over the country go to work. They get in their cars, arrive at the office, and sit inside. Then, they go home, maybe watch some TV, and go to bed. 5 days a week. About 50 weeks a year.

Our built environment is where we now spend about 90% of our time. Unluckily for us, however, a recent Forbes article suggests that, most of the time, indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor, to the point where it’s potentially hazardous: “paint, carpet, countertops, dry wall, you name it and chances are it’s got some sort of toxic ingredient.”

And yet we have little way of knowing just how bad our building’s “ingredients” are for us. Until now.

Perkins+Will has been busy making lists of harmful substances, and their side effects, found in commonly used building materials. Just last week, they released a report tackling one such “toxin”: asthmagens, affecting over 23 million Americans (including 7.1. million children).

The forward-thinking firm is on the cutting-edge of a movement, instigated by clients and fast taking over the architecture world – towards “healthy” buildings (inside and out).

Read more about Perkins+Will’s revolutionary Transparency Project, after the break…

Are architects depressed, unhealthy and divorced?

It's A Wonderful Life / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How often do you hear phrases with the following general undertones: “architecture isn’t a profession it is a calling,” “architecture isn’t a career it is a way of life,” or “architecture doesn’t make life possible it makes it worth living”? Perhaps not that often, but enough that many architects see themselves as uniquely sacrificing aspects of their life for a higher cause. Some claim that architects have high rates, suffer from , and endure a special degree of stress that causes early mortality from cancer and heart disease. Yikes! But what evidence is there for these serious claims? Admittedly, the evidence for or against such claims is not very robust. The first and best answer, except in the case of , is to say, “I don’t know.” Sorting out the muddled statistics takes a fair degree of interpretation and guesswork. However, after reviewing the data that are available, it is more reasonable to believe that architects are, on average, happily married and healthy people.