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AIA Events: Design and Health Roundup

Across the nation, architects at the national, state, and local level are untangling the relationship between architecture and health

By Stephen Sharpe, Hon. AIA

Architects are exploring the links between design and health at all levels of the AIA. From the FitNation exhibit, which began with AIA New York and continues at AIA National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to state and local component programming, to AIA Knowledge Community events, architects are finding a variety of ways to engage members and the public. Here are a few of the events that have taken place recently or are planned in the future.

AIA Seattle: Seattle Design Festival

This year’s Seattle Design Festival, held Sept. 13–22, revolved around the theme “Design in Health” to explore the connection between environmental design and our physical, mental, and social well-being.

The region’s largest public design event (organized by AIA Seattle and its nonprofit subsidiary Design in Public), the festival brought together experts, city leaders, and citizens to celebrate and explore the ways design improves the quality of life in their communities. Around 6,500 people attended this year’s events, the most ever in the festival’s three-year history. “We’ve seen a steady increase on every success measure: attendance, social media, partners, and sponsorship,” says Lisa Richmond, executive director of AIA Seattle. “Our sponsorship nearly doubled this year, and we had a far-reaching advertising and public information campaign, reaching over 3 million readers and listeners with bus ads, radio spots, print, and TV.”

Among this year’s activities was a panel discussion, “Planning Seattle’s Future: What will the Next 20 Years Hold for Us?” sponsored by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. Moderated by Seattle City Planning Director Marshall Foster, the panel included Mark Hinshaw, FAIA, of LMN Architects; Liz Dunn of Dunn + Hobbes, developer of Melrose Market; and Matt Lerner, founder of Walk Score. Panelists shared their visions for a healthier, more equitable, and sustainable future for Seattle. The festival’s epicenter was Design Block in Pioneer Square, a collaboration by local designers, volunteers, contractors, students, educators, nonprofits, and businesses to create a place to celebrate the power of design in Seattle.

AIA DC’s Active Design Committee

AIA DC’s newly established Active Design Committee (ADC) organized its first event: a panel discussion held on Sept. 17 entitled “Fitness and Nutrition in the Urban Environment.” The ADC’s mission is to champion physical activity and health in design, and its primary goal is to promote awareness of public health epidemics and design strategies for combating them. For its inaugural event, the ADC brought together experts in the fields of health and fitness to speak on topics ranging from maximizing the nutritional benefits of locally sourced organic food to research on how people respond to urban changes through physical activity.

The ADC is planning to hold a competition next spring to design stairs for Washington Metro subway stations. “The competition is being planned in an effort to extend and apply ‘active design’ strategies to a broader audience,” says Cristina Crespo, Assoc. AIA, who co-chairs the ADC with Kelly Funk, Assoc. AIA. “We want to impact at a scale that goes beyond our AIA chapter. By partnering with Metro DC and utilizing their transportation infrastructure and selected stations, we are able to bring active design to users beyond the design industry. It will be interesting to see how our designers approach the challenge of transforming the stairs within their respective stations into an art piece that will promote its use over the escalator and enhance human activity and interaction.”

AIA Jacksonville

AIA Arizona

AIA Jacksonville’s Nov. 7 meeting and AIA Arizona’s Aug. 22 conference both featured addresses by Dr. Richard Jackson, Hon. AIA, former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health. Dr. Jackson has done extensive work on the impact of the environment on health, particularly in relation to children. With expertise in epidemiology, infectious diseases, and toxicology, his most recent efforts—including the four-hour PBS documentary series Designing Healthy Communities—have focused on how the built environment affects health.

At the AIA Arizona conference, Dr. Jackson customized his message to address the unique challenges faced by newer Sunbelt cities. “He spoke directly to the challenges of a large and sprawling desert city such as Phoenix,” says Craig Randock, AIA, 2013 president of AIA Arizona. “Architects and affiliated design professionals have a direct influence on our community’s collective and individual health through both urban and building design. [Jackson] urged the architects in the audience to step up to the challenge to make our cities and towns more livable and viable.”

Texas Society of Architects Annual Convention

November 7–9, Fort Worth, Texas

One of the sessions at this year’s annual meeting explored how design influences the psychology of the people who interact with buildings. “Space Mind Architecture: The Impact of Design on Mind and Body,” was presented by Elizabeth Danze, FAIA, a principal of Danze Blood Architecture and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture; and Stephen Sonnenberg, M.D., a psychoanalyst who teaches at the UT Austin College of Liberal Arts. Drawing upon interdisciplinary research they have conducted, their session revealed—through case studies and projects at the scale of the individual, building, and city—the myriad ways physical space shapes the mind.

AIA Minnesota Annual Convention

November 12–15, Minneapolis

AIA Minnesota’s 79th annual convention will feature a Nov. 13 keynote address by Michael Murphy, co-founder and CEO of MASS Design Group, the nonprofit firm that designed and built Butaro Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. His topic, “Buildings That Heal,” will focus on bringing exemplary design services to communities otherwise excluded from its benefits.

Butaro Hospital, MASS’s first project, represents a radical rethinking of healthcare from the typical perspective of industrialized nations in several respects. First, where the medical profession in the Western world is now mostly concerned with forestalling chronic diseases, the design team at Butaro Hospital helped redirect efforts toward eradicating infectious diseases. Second, the designers arranged for the hospital to be constructed by resident laborers using local materials, which provided much-needed income as well as the long-term benefit of training local workers in stoneworking.

Healthcare Design Conference

November 16–19, Orlando, Fla.

The annual Healthcare Design Conference, co-sponsored by the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) Knowledge Community and Healthcare Design Magazine, will present programs about how built environments directly impact the safety, operation, clinical outcomes, and financial success of healthcare facilities. This year’s theme is “Shaping the Future of Healthcare Facility Design,” with presentations ranging from ongoing investigations into research-informed design to case studies showing how collaboration produces better projects. “Most of this year’s session presenters are leaders in their firms or organizations, representing the leading edge of healthcare design practice,” says Charles Griffin, AIA, a senior principal with WHR Architects in Houston and AAH board chair for conferences and events.


November 19–23, Philadelphia

This year the AIA is putting its recent Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan at the forefront of Greenbuild. This intensely researched report looks at how the AIA can best use its resources and long track record of sustainability leadership. One of its primary findings is that the intersection of design and health is a key emerging leadership issue for architects as they strive to address sustainability holistically. The Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan will be the topic of a session presented by AIA Resident Fellow Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, who researched and wrote it, and will set the tone of the AIA’s exhibit booth. Lazarus, however, won’t be the only AIA member at Greenbuild explaining the fundamental connection between public health and sustainability. Dozens of seminars and events will cover this territory, many hosted by AIA members on topics such as biophilia, urban-scale planning for healthy neighborhoods, and healthcare architecture. A special focus, on Nov. 19, will be the Materials & Human Health Summit, a daylong, in-depth, whole-lifecycle look at how materials impact human health from their initial creation through their installation in buildings.

2014 South Atlantic Region Architecture for Health Conference

May 16, Charlotte

Since 2010, AIA South Carolina has worked with the South Atlantic Region of the Academy of Architecture for Health to host a one-day conference that uses Clemson University’s deep academic expertise in design and health to bring together nationally recognized leaders in healthcare architecture. Past conferences have focused on how healthcare facilities can best utilize public spaces, research-based design practices, and integrated project delivery. Themed “Accountable Care Meets Accountable Design–Collaborating for Returns on Investment,” next year’s event will take place on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, on May 16.

AIA 2014 National Convention Design and Health Track

June 26–28, Chicago

Looking for a ready-made, immersive primer on all the ways architects’ work affects public health? The 2014 AIA National Convention will offer a design and health track that will include 10 seminars and two half-day workshops spread across all three days of the event. Topics will include obesity prevention design strategies, multigenerational housing, design for social and health equity, and the use of public health data in design. Taken together, these sessions can serve as an initial design and health toolkit ready to be applied to your next project in ways that enliven the physical and mental health of all who experience the space.


Seattle Design Festival. All images courtesy of architecturegeek.

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Seattle Design Festival

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A graffiti wall at the Seattle Design Festival.

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Vertical green wall at Seattle Design Festival

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A graffiti wall at the Seattle Design Festival.

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