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.

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