Architecture and Design for a Fit Nation

Aug 9, 2013, 1:30 PM

In the national conversation on the spreading epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases, and the ways in which public health initiatives can fight these issues, architecture and design are continuing to play a leading role in developing fit and healthy solutions. The way a community or a school or a store or a workplace is built can actually influence physical activity, access to healthier food and more to help create an overall fitter nation.

FitNation is an initiative that highlights innovative design strategies across the country to get people healthy and moving. These projects, which stretch across the realms of local and national policy and grassroots-driven action to urban improvements, are brought together in FitNation as inspired by New York City’s Active Design Guidelines and the annual Fit City Conference, which is a partnership between the American Institute of Architects New York and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Here is a selection of some of the creative solutions featured in FitNation that were developed to help individuals and communities lead happier and healthier lives.

file Red Swing Project in Austin

Red Swing Project
Design by Hatch Workshop and University of Texas at Austin Architecture Students

Starting in Austin, Texas, a group of architecture students seeking to make better use of public spaces started the Red Swing Project, an open source initiative to transform some unexpected places into playgrounds. The swings consist of a piece of scrap wood, painted red, and rock climbing rope and have popped up all over the world—transforming areas hit by natural disasters, lining a bicycle path from Paris to Barcelona, and below an interstate overpass. You can track the project online with a geo-tagged map or through #redswingproject on Instagram and Facebook.

file Urban Farming Food Chain Edible Wall

Urban Farming Food Chain, Edible Wall
Design by Elmslie Osler, Architect
Los Angeles, CA

We all know that some of the healthiest foods grow on trees, but now in Los Angeles thanks to the Urban Farming Food Chain, they can grow on walls too. The Food Chain consists of “edible walls” that grow fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, intended to provide economically disadvantaged populations with healthier food options. The walls are installed on pre-existing structures and have storage for tools, seeds and soil. This project’s vertical angle on community gardens help provide social activities as well as the opportunity to share and develop skills and healthy habits.

file Mobile Dumpster Pools

Mobile Dumpster Pools
Design by Macro-Sea
New York, NY

Taking a refreshing dip in the pool during the heat of summer was hard in New York City without  penthouse condo access, until the NYC Department of Transportation had the idea to convert a dumpster into a pool in 2009. The first dumpster dive tank was built in Brooklyn, complete with lounge chairs and cabanas. Later, mobile pool modules, compliant with all NYC legal codes, were developed, making swimming available anywhere with a little space and a power outlet.

file One of New York City's Water-on-the-Go Fountains

Design by New York City Department of Environmental Protection
New York, NY

Much less expensive than bottled water and much more communal, Water-On-the-Go portable water fountains are helping to educate New Yorkers on the benefits of tap water. The table-like stations provide six fountains and an easy way to fill up your water bottle with quality-tested water. Last year alone Water-On-the-Go served more than 500,000 people and 3,000 dogs and helped out residents without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. There is even an app to help locate the nearest station.

file Apple Store entrance

Apple Retail Store
Design by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Ronnette Riley
New York, NY

There is more appeal to taking the stairs over the obscurely hidden elevators in this Apple Store inhabiting the restored and re-imagined U.S. Post Office Station A in SoHo, built in 1925. The 15-foot-high glass staircase is featured in the center of the display area, leading to a glass bridge to connect to the mezzanine level. Shoppers appear to be walking on air as they are encouraged to use the walkways. This encourages more physical activity as a part of the everyday task of shopping. The concept of making staircases accessible, prominent and attractive can be applied to any built environment structure, and has been shown in previous research to have a significant impact on physical activity.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.