Designing citizens: architects as nudgers?

Sunday 20 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Cinema 3 Urban Life

Healthy City pioneer, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argues, ‘we have a responsibility as human beings to save lives,’ suggesting a government’s ‘highest duty’ is to make ‘healthy solutions the default social option’. In the UK, former Design Council boss David Kester says architects should be placed ‘slap in the middle’ between ‘policy narrative and user experience’, arguing, ‘we are very emotional and highly suggestible beings and we as architects are certainly shaping feelings and by designing buildings shaping outcomes’.

Two thirds of people in the UK are said to be overweight or obese, and planners and designers are increasingly called upon to ‘shape outcomes’ by creating neighbourhoods and buildings that promote active and healthy lifestyles. Is the movement to design ‘fit cities’ a realistic and desirable development, and if so, what role should designers play in it? When designing out the ‘wrong’ type of food shops, hiding lifts so to encourage stair use, or banishing car parks to the edge of estates to ‘encourage’ people to walk, are we simply making it easier for citizens to do the right thing, or arrogantly making people’s decisions for them? Does the curious nudge mantra of ‘making things easy by making things difficult’ mean designers acting on a moral duty to save us, or engaging in social engineering?

Henry Ashworth
chief executive, The Portman Group; former member, Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insights Team

Alastair Donald
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council

Rory Olcayto
deputy editor, Architects' Journal

Elly Ward
architecture graduate, Royal College of Art; author, Back to Morality: an architectural fable for our modern times

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

Produced by
Alastair Donald associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council
Recommended readings
Walk This Way: Center for Active Design Fights Obesity with Architecture

We’ve designed our world to keep us from having to exert ourselves. We have escalators and elevators and moving sidewalks precisely because we don’t want to be forced to work out all the time. But combine these conveniences with the largely desk-bound life of the modern knowledge worker, and it starts to look like we may have erred in the other direction—engineering physical activity out of our lives.

Andrew Price, GOOD, 23 July 2013

Give us back our public spaces so we can have access to all areas

Places such as London's Canary Wharf would be more vibrant if we weren't so restricted in what we can do there

Will Hutton, Guardian, 16 June 2013

Should Architects Design 'Fit' Cities?

Many of the well-meaning, interventionist policies being proposed in the UK, or implemented in Mayor Bloomberg's New York City, aim to 'nudge' the citizen into making a positive choice towards a better diet. But this may not be the easiest route to a healthy lifestyle.

Alex Maxwell, Huffington Post, 4 July 2012

Defending moral autonomy against an army of nudgers

Frank Furedi slams the ‘choice architects’ who bypass public debate in their zealous effort to reshape our minds and bodies.

Frank Furedi, spiked, 20 January 2011

Can architecture make you fat?

Experts are starting to think so - and they're urging architects and town planners to tackle the obesity epidemic by making new buildings more fitness-friendly. Paul Arendt reports

Paul Arendt, Guardian, 4 January 2007

Active Design Guidelines

Promoting physical activity and health in design

Centre For Active Design

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