what is active design?
The concept of ‘active design’ comes up a lot in contemporary debate around how to design interiors, buildings and communities that prioritise human health and wellbeing. Here is a short introduction to this innovative new approach that combines elements of fitness, design and architecture in one.
why do we need it?
Unless you have been living under a duvet for the last decade you’ll have heard mention of the lifestyle disease epidemic affecting the western world.
Physical inactivity, poor diet and smoking are one side of the coin while obesity, Type 2 diabetes and chronic heart disease the other.
Together they are putting unprecedented pressure on state healthcare systems that are already close to buckling with limited resources. As governments have sought for ways to improve the situation, active design has become a rallying cry for health conscious city planners, architects and interior designers aiming to prevent ‘rather’ than ‘cure’.
Examples of creating a healthy community or healthy city include dedicated bicycle pathways and bike sharing schemes to reduce car use and lower pollution levels while encouraging physical activity.
Strategic use of landscaping can also help create attractive walkways that encourage walking and interaction outdoors; New York’s now legendary Highline being one obvious example.
Stairwell prompts in office and residential buildings can make the difference between using an elevator 20 times per day to go from ground to first floor vs burning an additional 200 total calories taking the stairs.
Something as simple as a notice adjacent to a stairwell entrance can be enough to encourage greater stair use, such prompts need to be easily visible and graphically engaging.
Incorporating showers, changing rooms, lockers and bike racks in office buildings for workers also encourages cycling to work as well as lunchtime jogs or workouts.
Public landscaping, city centre micro-parks designed to reduce air pollution levels and other opportunities to connect with nature in an urban environment have all been shown to help reduce anxiety, promote a sense of vitality and restore nature-connectedness for improved mental wellbeing even in relatively short periods of time.
A series of micro-parks in London UK were designed to offer small doses of nature in a densely urban context surrounded by office high-rises.
Sit-stand desks have been shown to promote productivity and stimulate movement during the workday in a seminal study by Perkins + Will, representing an improvement on the desk & chair model that predominates in most offices.
By standing for part of the day, sitting on a mobility ball and taking every opportunity to move around the office from workstation to workstation (which in turn requires a certain type of office layout) workers can reduce mental fatigue and gain a mental edge while reducing lower back pain.