Sign In, Renew, Sign Up

Search AIA

Search AIA Go

Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture

Page Tools

Reed Insight and Community


America’s Design and Health Initiative: An Important Value Proposition for Architects

It's time for architects to consider their role in the public health debate

By Markku Allison, AIA, Resource Architect

AIA Center for Value of Design

As licensed professionals, it’s our responsibility to watch out for the health, safety and welfare of the public. We place our seals on our designs, indicating that we have discharged this duty in good faith. But how deeply do we really think about the implications of that commitment beyond the project at hand? In recent months, I’ve had significant opportunity to reflect upon our health, safety and welfare responsibilities in the context of a single issue of growing public concern, and am convinced that there is perhaps no greater challenge (and opportunity) worthy of our profession’s attention. That issue is public health, and threats to it endanger the health, safety and welfare of our country, its economy and its citizens.

America faces a dangerous epidemic of obesity and a lack of physical fitness. Recent estimates predict that the American adult obesity rate could reach 43 percent by 2018, generating $344 billion in healthcare costs related to diabetes and hypertension, among other diseases. Obesity threatens to shorten the lifespan of today’s children by as much as five years, the first time in two centuries that a generation of children might face shorter life expectancies than their parents. This issue, along with the significant role it plays in the escalating healthcare crisis, could cripple our economy, damage our communities, overstress our businesses and threaten the health security of future generations.

Over a decade of research clearly links obesity, physical activity and the built environment. But how, specifically, do we design communities and buildings to positively and measurably influence physical well-being, health and productivity? There’s so much that we architects can do in this arena that would benefit society. As such, an exploration of the relationship between design, physical activity and obesity will be the focus of the AIA’s America’s Design and Health Initiative (ADHI), a cornerstone project of the recently created AIA Center for Value of Design.

In coming months, ADHI will progress in three steps, yielding three key deliverables--a body of evidence, a research agenda and policy recommendations--for architects, public health officials and policymakers. This information will be used to build a foundation for influential, ongoing dialog on the connections between physical activity, obesity, design and health. By clearly demonstrating connections between design and beneficial health outcomes, ADHI will give architects an important new value proposition for the society we serve.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s map of US obesity rates by percentage, per state. Image courtesy of the CDC (2009).

In 2008, all 50 states reported data on obesity prevalence:

• Only one state had less than 20 percent

• Thirty-two states had at least 25 percent

• Six states had at least 30 percent

“Obesity is predicted to shorten life expectancy of the average American two to five years by mid-century unless aggressive efforts are made to slow this major public health epidemic.”--From the University of California at Los Angeles School of Public Health report Contributions of Built Environment to Childhood Obesity by Tamanna Rahman, Rachel A. Cushing, and Richard J. Jackson, MD.

U.S. Healthcare Expenditures as Percent of GDP Projections

Source: Keehan et al: Health Affairs, March/April 2008 27: 145-155

Recent Related:

Building Healthier New Yorkers: Urban Design—Part I

Designing Healthier New Yorkers: Building Design—Part II

Evidence-Based Design: The Deeper Meaning to Sustainability, Building Performance, and Everything Else

Checking the Pulse of Healthcare Architecture


Visit ht Academy of Architecture for Health Web site on AIA KnowledgeNet.


Back to AIArchitect April 15, 2011

Go to the current issue of AIArchitect


Footer Navigation

Copyright & Privacy

  • © The American Institute of Architects
  • Privacy