Food for Thought \

This is not an article about the biggest debate affecting architects today. Instead it is an article about the biggest thing that affects architecture; people.

Yesterday, George Osborne delivered his eighth budget. One of the big headlines was a new tax on sugary drinks in an effort to curb the rise in obesity across all age ranges, this is a real world problem we need to think about. A question I think worthy of debate is ‘Have we been accidentally designing a world that encourages laziness and obesity?’

Making things ‘easier’ and ‘more convenient’ doesn’t always make them better. Unfortunately when things are readily available we can forget how to tell when enough is enough, we have our cake and eat it. According to the NHS website around one in five children aged 10 to 11 is obese in the UK. They also provide a helpful explanation; ‘Obesity is generally caused by consuming more calories than you burn off through physical activity. The excess energy is then stored by the body as fat.’

Given 20% of the next generation are obese before taking on office jobs, sedentary lifestyles and other adult activities like drinking it is clear we have a problem we cannot ignore. Should we be designing buildings to accommodate the (literally) growing population or should we be designing buildings that help mitigate the cause of growth? The NHS mantra ‘prevention is better than a cure’ is tried and tested.

What will happen to space standards in the future? Will they need to be revised in 20 or so years? That’s when these obese 10 year olds will be old enough to become first time buyers after-all. Just imagine it; architects standing in front of planners who are no longer interested in daylight levels, cycle storage and calibre of design but are instead focused on the size of corridors and if we can still get past one another.

Here’s some low-fat food for thought; could architects and urban designers design-in exercise opportunities? Meandering footpaths, making lifts and escalators less obvious or perhaps introducing Indiana-Jones style obstacle courses between your house and the office.

We could consider flipping the PTAL (Public Transport Accessibility Level) rating system. Favouring developments that are furthest away to transport hubs would mean people have to walk, run or cycle a little bit further to get where they are going. This would increase our shared calorie burn AND unlock some currently unviable development sites. Obesity and housing shortage solved in one, let’s go celebrate with a choc-ice!

Clearly this is a very simplistic view of life and does little to provide any real solutions but what I would really like you to take-away (get it?) is that architecture is all about people. Architects need to start thinking about how people are changing and most importantly of all how we might start to deal with that?

Making things ‘easier’ and ‘more convenient’ doesn’t always make them better.

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