Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Active Design Guidelines

Much has been written recently regarding the health risks and future costs of sedentary life and obesity. Late last year New York City, through a multi-disciplinary effort of city agencies, academic partners and AIA NY, published what I think is the first comprehensive guideline focused on design features and elements that promote physical activity. The guide has four chapters including Design and Health, Urban Design, Building Design and Synergies with Sustainable and Universal Design.

This is a great reference and resource for use in all of our work and is very consumable through clear writing, good graphics, linkage for evidence-based design/good practice, case studies and checklists. A free download is available from

A quote from the guideline’s executive summary frames the context for the current challenge for architectural and urban designers.
“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, architects and urban reformer helped to defeat infectious diseases like cholera and tuberculosis by designing better buildings, streets, neighborhoods, clean water systems, and parks. In the 21st century, designers can again play a crucial role in combating the most rapidly growing public health epidemics of our time: obesity and its impact on related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Today, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet are second only to tobacco as the main causes of premature death in the United States. A growing body of research suggests that evidence-based architectural and urban design strategies can increase regular physical activity and healthy eating.”

So every opportunity to design and construct a component of the built environment is an opportunity to carefully create a design that promotes active living. The most obvious are stairs for everyday use. Let’s actively engage this research into our planning and design work.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Together We Can Each Be More Creative

I never really though I'd learn much about creativity and design thinking from a cartoon character until I read Robert Fabricant's essay posted on Fast Company's blog, Frog Design: 3 Things Wile E. Coyote Teaches Us About Creative Intelligence. The essay does a fantastic job of helping to examine and explain just how we bring out creativity in one another. I think it's incredibly relevant to our firm and the A/E profession in general. Those design challenges, different ideas and unique perspectives that make up our profession can help drive us to be more creative.

Fabricant shows us how we can push each other to be more creative by examining the relationship between Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. He argues, 'Would Wile E. be anywhere near as creative without Road Runner? Would his inventions emerge out of his own faculties unprompted or only in response to a situation? His relationship with Road Runner is a dynamic that constantly pushes him farther, faster and (unfortunately in more cases) higher than he imagined.'

Think about this as you work on new projects. Engage with as many fellow teammates, clients and colleagues in the profession as you can, whether they think like you do or not. Responding to challenges and seeking diverse views make for the kind of mentality and attitude that will drive us forward. It's those collaborations that can increase our firm and profession's overall creativity quotient.

Fabricant sums it up with, 'Creativity emerges out of relationships; it's the tension between different ideas and perspectives and so it is risky to define it as an ability that we inherently possess.'

Don't shy away from the tension of different ideas and perspectives. Seek them out, elaborate and strive for creative solutions to our challenging design opportunities.

Watch some Wile E. for inspiration.