Three Innovative Examples of Active Building Design

Tomorrow’s buildings can help us lead healthier lives


Tomorrow’s buildings can help us lead healthier lives.

Buildings are getting “healthier” in more ways than one. LEED-certified buildings are better for the planet, and WELL buildings are better for occupants’ wellbeing (providing more natural light and less noise, for example). But some buildings are designed to help us get our much-needed exercise, too.

To combat obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle, architects, engineers, urban planners and community leaders are working together to integrate physical activity into everyday life through active design. We've seen examples of the concept in neighborhoods, streets, green spaces and yes, buildings.

One common focus of such buildings is prominent, inviting staircases that lead anywhere occupants and visitors might wish to go. Outdoor recreational space is another.

Here’s how three buildings encourage occupants to get on their feet and move around.

Buckingham County Primary and Elementary School - Dillwyn, Virginia

Children in rural areas face an increased risk of obesity. But this school in Dillwyn, Virginia, built in 2012, incorporates a variety of features to helps students get moving. A huge staircase in the main lobby connects two shared common spaces and functions as a social hub. Seating choices encourage micro-movement and active postures. Outside are covered areas for year-round physical education classes and play, a large network of walking paths (also available to families and the community at large) and areas for meditation or quiet reflection. There’s even a kitchen garden with a variety of raised bed heights.

Photo Credit: Tom Daly, VMDO Architects

The New School University Center - New York City

When The New School’s University Center was completed in 2014, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized it as an outstanding example of successfully implementing active design. The 370,000 square foot building, which includes a student residence tower and houses classrooms, studios, labs, a cafeteria, an auditorium and more, was conceived as a campus within a building. It also earned a LEED Gold rating.

A principle design feature is three prominent, iconic staircases that wind through the building, connecting activity hubs and loft-like spaces on each level, all designed to increase movement and opportunities for interactions among faculty and students. Large, clerestory windows in the hallways provide natural light, encouraging students to walk between destinations.

Image Credit: Beyond My Ken

Gensler Office Headquarters - Newport Beach, California

Design and architecture firm Gensler created a “Healthy Workplace Initiative” to help corporate clients build a healthier workplace environment. When it came time to renovate their own headquarters in 2013, the firm took the opportunity to test its strategies on its employees.

The reception area welcomes visitors with a wide range of seating options and clear views of office activity. Spacious hallways accommodate employees who want to use a company-owned bike, scooter or skateboard to get around, while circular interior pathways on the main level connect to an open stairwell. An open floor plan offers areas for individual work and collaboration and encourages staff to move away from their desks. Bike storage is provided to promote commuting by bike.

Inspired? The Center for Active Design offers a downloadable manual of active design strategies.


Was this article helpful?