Active Design Awards: 7 projects keeping people (and the environment) healthy

April 22, 2014

Partially reblogged from

Center for Active Design: Excellence

Recognizing design that can make people healthier and happier is the goal of a recent awards by The Center for Active Design, an organization launched in New York City in 2013 by the Bloomberg Administration’s Obesity Task Force. This week the Center announced the first every winners of the Excellence in Active Design award competition. The competition intends to publicize and recognize the role of design in addressing preventable disease by encouraging physical activity through the design of buildings and public space.

A jury of design and health professionals selected four winning projects and two honorable mentions for the Center for Active Design Excellence award according to the checklists found in the Active Design Guidelines, published in 2010. Preference was given to projects with research studies of proven impact. The jury also acknowledged the extent to which cross-sector and community collaboration were required in order to realize the results achieved. The Leadership in Active Design Excellence award recognizes an early adopter of Active Design with an established track record of Active Design implementation. All winning projects exemplify innovation in the implementation of Active Design, the press release states.

The Center was pleased to see projects submitted for review came from regions well beyond its hometown of New York City, spanning the US from New Mexico to Washington, Virginia to Texas, and countries from Argentina to Denmark. This strong showing is evidence that Active Design is growing nationally and internationally as designers are more knowledgeable of the health affects of their work.

Award recipients will be recognized at “Celebrate Active Design”, to be held in New York City on May 19, 2014. The fundraising event is open to the public from 7pm – 9pm. For more information on purchasing tickets, please click here.

Read on to find out more about these projects!

Leadership in Active Design: Excellence Award – Blue Sea Development Company

The leadership in Active Design award was granted to Blue Sea Development Company for pioneering the implementation of Active Design strategies in affordable housing. The company’s case studies and financial pro formas were instrumental in informing the Active Design: Affordable Design for Affordable Housing publication distributed by the Center for Active Design.

In 2011, Blue Sea Development completed “The Melody,” a low- and moderate-income co-op in the South Bronx, the first development to receive a LEED Innovation Credit for Health through Physical Activity.

“Arbor House,” a low-income rental building completed in the South Bronx last year, uses all of the applicable Active Design strategies. In addition, it addresses the lack of access to healthy food in this neighborhood by integrating a 10,000 sf hydroponic rooftop farm, which will function as a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement in which “Arbor House” residents can purchase shares of healthy food produced by the farm.

Mount Sinai Hospital is conducting a formal evaluation of “Arbor House” to assess the impact of Active Design and other health-related strategies on the well-being of its residents.

In January 2013, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) selected Blue Sea Development Company to lead revitalization of Prospect Plaza, Brooklyn. The project will be funded by the HOPE VI Grant it received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The residential project will comprise 364 units with 80 units of NYCHA public housing, and include a space for a new supermarket, a community facility, a rooftop greenhouse, and a new recreation area.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.29.16 AM

Center for Active Design: Excellence Award Winners

Buckingham County Elementary School, Dillwyn, Virginia

The Buckingham County Elementary School, designed by VMDO Architects, P.C., re-defines education for its 960 elementary students, serving the residents of Dillwyn, Virginia. This existing rural community, sustained by the timber and industrial farming industries, offers little access to fresh, healthy foods or parks and paths for play and activity. The project team aimed to provide increased access to healthy foods and hands-on nutrition education, as well as create places for physical activity. In the long term, they hope to shape the way today’s youth think about physical activity and healthy eating choices as they age.

Inside the school, a teaching kitchen and food lab lounge instruct children on good nutrition and healthy meals in a fun and interactive environment. The kitchen garden offers a variety of raised bed heights for users of varying abilities and heights. A grab-n-go garden adjacent to the play areas facilitates healthy snacking right off the plant. While working on the project, the team developed Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture, published by the Center for Disease Control.

The project uses Active Design strategies reflected in the Active Buildings, Active Recreation, and Healthy Food Access approaches. The naturally lit lobby stair connects two shared common spaces and functions as a social hub. Ergonomic seating designed for micro-movement goes against traditional instructions to sit and be still, instead allowing children to fidget, lean, and sway as they participate in hands-on learning activities. Additional furniture options encourage active postures. Circulation patterns, integrated way-finding graphics, and visual access to the commercial kitchen in the cafeteria connects children with food preparation and service. Outside, 15 acres are designed for intergenerational use, with fitness and movement opportunities co-located alongside learning spaces, including a sustainable garden for public and school use.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.45.51 AM

Sephardic Community Center, Brooklyn, New York

BKSK Architects renovated and expanded Brooklyn’s aging Sephardic Community Center. The renovation and expansion payed special attention to preserving the legacy of the original building and while creating new spaces for a range of educational, athletic, and social service programs. The completed project serves preschoolers, school-aged children, young adults, adults, and senior citizens.

The Sephardic Community Center’s greatest Active Building innovation is the use of the central stair as the focal point for the community. Design of a 5’-8” wide central lobby stair connects the building’s three stories and encourages social mingling. Easy navigation and visible opportunities for rest or social engagement are fostered with comfortable seating on stair landings. Natural light is funneled into the core of the 100,000 square foot building. Elevators are located less prominently but nearby.

The Sephardic Community Center also uses Active Design strategies reflected in the Active Recreation approach. The building includes a gym, fitness center, racquetball courts, flexible program rooms, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The most frequented program space is the fitness center on the second level. Translucent partitions combine what were once visually and distinctly separate rooms. Boards display information on classes, health and nutrition, and community activities. Externally, the glass-walls open up the building to light and energy..


Blue Hole Regional Park, Wimberley, Texas

Blue Hole is a natural spring-fed swimming hole and a treasured destination for visitors and residents. Years of unmanaged recreational activities damaged the site and ecosystem, leading residents to decide to transform the site into a regional park. A design team led by Design Workshop, Inc., including Taniguchi & Associates, was asked to develop a new park to accommodate visitors, restore damaged ecosystems, and reflect the local vernacular cherished by the community, while minimizing environmental degradation. The design team worked with the community through public visioning charrette.

The park now supports active and educational uses with soccer fields, basketball courts, playgrounds, camping sites, and swimming in Blue Hole. The design manages to preserve seventy percent of the area’s tree coverage, which provides shade for outdoor active spaces. Nearly five miles of recreational trails were added, including a connection to the regional hiking/biking trail. Pedestrian routes to spaces within the park were made safe, visible, and well-lit. The project is one star SITES Certified and the largest SITES certified project in the nation.

To encourage children to move, the design team created nature-based play features made from re-purposed materials found on-site, such as a limestone interactive water table, a sand pit, and “Cedar Teepees” formed with upside-down cedar roots. A particularly notable achievement, the Awards committee points out, is the design team’s ability to protect 96% of the area from development while adding 320,000 square feet of active programming. Post-occupancy surveys show a 116% increase in average user satisfaction. A record 37,000 park visitors enjoyed the site between Memorial Day and Labor Day during the summer of 2013. Blue Hole Regional Park is a role model for developing human use with sensitive ecological preservation.
Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.46.27 AM

Greenbridge Master Plan, King County, Washington

“From the outset Greenbridge sought the input of its community with early design meetings conducted in six different languages to reflect its diverse residents. This inclusive process has resulted in a vibrant, art-filled neighborhood that connects its residents through play, gardening, walkable and bikable streets. This project will change lives,” said Joanna Frank, Executive Director, Center for Active Design.

The Greenbridge Master Plan mixes housing with recreational facilities. Upon receiving a HOPE VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the King County Housing Authority commissioned GGLO to develop a plan for the revitalization of an existing 100-acre affordable housing site in Seattle. Major challenges for the site included a walkable design that fit within the context of the existing diverse, low income, low-density neighborhood. The challenge grew even further with the goal of transforming the single-use residential configuration into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.

Designers commissioned over twenty art elements. Art is located in relation to the reserved existing trees to enrich sensory cues that support walkability and create nodes for community gathering. A number of regulatory changes were required by King County in order to accomplish the desired design outcome. An innovative Demonstration Ordinance, supported by King County, enabled a number of variances to Land Use and Building Codes, and allowed for several alternative design solutions to achieve affordable housing in a low-impact development.

The Greenbridge Master Plan integrates Active Recreation and Active Transportation strategies. To support the livability and health of residents, the design team focused on four elements: connectivity; open space diversity; adjacent uses; and placemaking. A variety of pedestrian routes pass by many types of destinations and encourage residents of different ages and abilities to walk instead of drive. Open spaces ranging in size, such as community parks, food gardens, and pocket parks, are located throughout the site and connected by sidewalks, trails, and paths. These recreation spaces are also located alongside adjacent uses, such as homes, schools, and community centers, which put “eyes on the street” and increase safety.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.46.40 AM

Honorable Mentions

Gammel Hellerup High School Gymnasium + Multipurpose Hall, Hellerup, Denmark

The Gammel Hellerup High School Gymnasium, designed by the BIG-BJARKE INGELS GROUP, is a response to the local high school’s request for a multifunctional space in which its students could engage in physical activities and socialize. Wishing to have the facility placed in its existing courtyard while maintaining sight lines and connectivity with the 1950’s-era school building, BIG’s solution was to build the gymnasium sixteen feet below ground. Inside, sports are the typical activity in the 12,500 sf space, and the school has experienced an increase in high-caliber athletes applying for admission. The space is also equipped to serve as a multipurpose venue and can accommodate a variety of large group gatherings, from academic to social opportunities. Incorporating Active Recreation strategies was rather straightforward due to the required program. The innovation came with the implementation of Active Building strategies. The sloping roof of the gymnasium is an accessible, dynamic area for social gatherings and acts a large hilly schoolyard designed with a “molehill” peak. This creative plan transforms a historically underutilized courtyard. White furniture is affixed to the curvilinear roof in distinct areas, which offer informal congregation spaces. These are routinely used for class activities as well as social purposes. A new entry to the school removes the preexisting barrier between neighboring community, which has enabled the school to host community events.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.53.44 AM

Gensler Newport Beach, Newport Beach, California

Gensler realized the firm’s “Healthy Workplace Initiative” through the extensive renovation of their own office space. The Initiative is the result of Gensler’s workplace research, captured in its Workplace Performance Index developed to record office behaviors to increase employee health. The office was programmatically organized to encourage employees to actively move about the office throughout the day. Company-owned scooters, bikes, and sometimes skateboards are routinely used for inter-office travel. The production room is on the first floor and the break room on the second. Recycling and trash bins have been removed from individual desks and centrally located instead. Additionally, recognizing that certain types of work are produced better in different environments, the open office plan provides places for focus and collaboration. This further encourages staff to move away from their desks and into alternative work environments throughout the day. The firm has established follow up evaluation systems to track the impacts of these strategies on employee health. The “Healthy Workplace Initiative” was launched to assist corporate clients who seek to improve the wellbeing of their employees.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.53.52 AM

Celebrate Active Design

“Celebrate Active Design” is a fundraiser and award reception in New York City on May 19th. The fundraiser will unite interest from government agencies, building and landscape architects, planners, real estate developers, policy makers, community groups, financial and public health professionals with a shared vision of re-designing our built environment to reverse the alarming rates of chronic diseases. Winning projects will be on display. Tickets are tax-deductible. Learn more at

For more information, contact: Joanna Frank, Executive Director, (646) 568-7924,

Ecocity Insights: Healthy Biodiversity

April 1, 2014

By Jennie Moore, Director Sustainable Development and Environment Stewardship
BCIT School of Construction and the Environment


Biodiversity refers to the vast array of species, both flora and fauna, that populate the Earth. Their interactions create the ecosystems upon which we depend, characterized by various biomes including: deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and coral reefs (Newman and Jennings 2008).

Healthy biodiversity needs intact nutrient cycles, no net loss of soils, and no accumulation of pollutants (in soil, air or water). Although approximately 12% of Earth’s wild places have been dedicated as natural reserves, global change processes, including climate change, mean that the systemic conditions needed for these places to thrive are being undermined. Biodiversity losses are being driven in part by urbanization processes that fragment natural habitats and nutrient cycles, deplete soils and aquifers, and increase pollution levels (Newman and Jennings 2008).

To achieve the “Ecocity: Level 1 Condition” requires that the geo-physical and socio-cultural features of a city are in harmony with its surrounding bioregion ( This means that indigenous flora and fauna are allowed to flourish. Equally important, ecocities do not draw down the resources or increase pollution levels in areas outside the bioregion either. This could happen through trade imbalances and/or taking advantage of global common resources, such as the waste sink capacities of oceans and atmosphere. Therefore, ecocities are concerned both with preserving and enabling healthy biodiversity in their bioregion as well as in the world generally.


The ecocity vision includes tightly clustered development immediately adjacent to naturally preserved areas (Register 2006). This allows people to experience nature at their doorstep despite living in high-density urban environments. Ecocities also utilize clean and renewable energy and responsible resources and materials that do not contribute to the destruction of natural habitat in their extraction nor the accumulation of toxics in their manufacture, use and disposal. Finally, by ensuring healthy and accessible food, ecocities also help to protect soils while keeping citizens well nourished.


Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. 2008. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington DC: Island Press.

Register, Richard. 2006. Ecocities: Redesigning Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola BC: New Society Publishers.


The British Colombia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative.


Soil is the Solution, or, the Most Important Story I’ll Ever Write

February 28, 2014
by Sven Eberlein

soil Sven, “Soil is the Solution” might be the most important environmental story you’ll ever write. It is part of the solution to our environmental challenges. The story belongs on the front of the NY Times and on 60 Minutes. – Email from Robert Reed, composting manager at Recology, San Francisco’s waste management company

This is a story of hope and possibility in times of great turmoil and struggle.

A few months ago I was working on an article about
San Francisco’s pioneering efforts to become the world’s first zero-waste city by 2020. Chronicling this journey toward a current nation-leading 78 percent waste diversion rate, a major focus of the story was on the city’s mandatory composting program that has played a huge role in keeping over a million tons of food scraps, plant trimmings, soiled paper, and other compostable materials from clogging up landfills and releasing methane into the atmosphere.

I was particularly interested in the idea of the food cycle, and it was heartening to see just how far along the City by the Bay has come in closing it: each day 600 tons of sloppy goodness from hundreds of thousands of residents, businesses, and over 5,000 restaurants gets shipped to a local state of the art composting facility, from where it returns to residents’ dinner tables in the form of fresh, organic foods grown bylocal farmers who use the city’s nutrient-rich compost as fertilizer.
It wasn’t until after the story was published that I was alerted to the most remarkable and possibly game-changing discovery about urban compost: its potential
to offset 20 percent and perhaps as much as 40 percent of America’s carbon emissions! Read the rest of this entry »

Floating cities becoming a reality

April 16, 2013

Building on water eliminates flood risk and enables expansion

For thousands of years, human settlements have clustered around flood planes, from the banks of the Amazon River to lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia, to the marshes of the Netherlands. These settlements are designed to account for the seasonal ebb and flow of sea and fresh water, often by constructing buildings on raised platforms and/or building dykes, dams and canals. Yet as global climate change leads to increasing sea levels, almost every coastal city will face the challenge of encroaching waters.

Presenters at the Global Town Hall for infrastructure solutions held last week in Germany introduced innovative solutions for cities on the brink. “13 out of the world’s 21 megacities are harbor cities, of which Shanghai is most vulnerable to flood and related hazards,” said Professor Markus Quante at the town hall.

Instead of holding back the flood, several presenters suggested ways to completely re-imagine a city on the water. Rutger de Graaf from DeltaSync, a design firm that specializes in sustainable flood-proof urban development in delta areas, says cities can float on water and yet stay dry and resilient. Floating structures on water eliminate the threat of flood damage and can be a viable option for city expansion. In addition, city waste such as carbon dioxide and biowaste can be used to farm algae and in turn raise fish in urban areas.

“Urbanization in delta areas has caused increasingly severe flood. It has also added pressure on space, food, energy and other resources,” said de Graaf, adding that by 2025 the world will run short of at least 22 million km2 of land – an area equivalent to the North American continent.

Rijnhaven Pavijlioner. Images from DeltaSync

The city of Rotterdam is already experimenting with floating urbanization, building its first floating pavilion at the Rijnhaven harbor. Designed by DeltaSync, the three domed structures cover the area of four tennis courts and are not only self-sufficient, relocatable structures that purify their own waste water, but also rise automatically according to rising water levels. The city plans to add many more floating buildings, including a park, as part of the Rijnhaven harbor redevelopment master plan.

Another 1,200 floating structures are planned to open in 2040 in Stadhavens – an area designated for sustainable housing development, floating communities, recreation, and research on energy generation such as tidal energy and cooling and heating from river water.

The city of Semarang, the capital of Central Java, and other coastal cities are working with the Dutch to implement their water management expertise in their own districts. Semarang has already lost 98.2 hectares of land between 1991 and 2009 due to land erosion accelerated by climate change.

Find out more about DeltaSync’s project at their website.

A big step forward for Oakland

April 4, 2013

Growing up near downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt was never a destination for me. My family went to Fairyland once and a while, and I have hazy memories of paddle boating. I remember a lot of bird droppings and the fruity stench of stagnant, brackish water. I heard that they pulled a dead body out of there once.

Lake Merritt, surrounded by its string of pearl lights at night, is now one of my favorite destinations in the Bay Area, and I’m lucky to live right above it near the Grand Lake Theater. Oakland City Officials and residents recognized the wisdom in restoring this civic gem when they proposed measure DD, a $198.25 million bond measure that included waterfront improvements at Lake Merritt and the Estuary. In November 2002, over 80% of Oakland voters passed Measure DD and work began, slowly and haltingly, two years later.

The Lake Merritt Master Plan is an inspiringly ambitious civic vision that allocates money towards landscaping, habitat and stream restoration, improving water quality in Lake Merritt, widening pedestrian and cycling paths and building better roadways to calm traffic around the lake. Measure DD Program Manager Joel Peter calls it “the most wide-ranging and complex series of projects ever undertaken by the City of Oakland.” It’s been a long project. Over ten years later, work is still being done (and is overdue) on the Estuary connection and new 12th Street bypass. But so far it is an incredible success. Visit the lake any time of day and you’ll see a cross section of Oakland jogging, playing, walking, picnicking, and relaxing in the sun.

We take so much time to complain about what is wrong with our cities–it’s equally important to celebrate and give thanks when things are done right. These successes often fly under the radar, especially in cities with as many problems as Oakland.

Here are five reasons to be excited about the Lake Merritt Master plan:

1. Restored walking and jogging paths

The walk around Lake Merritt used to be plagued with potholes. Many parts of it have been repaved and girdled with native and drought-tolerant landscaping. Some completely new sections of the path include a packed-earth lane for joggers.

2. Bike paths

The entire lake can now be circumnavigated on bike paths. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition along with TransForm are also working on connecting other existing bike paths to the lake to serve as a bike transit hub.

4. Reduced car traffic

The four lane road around the lake has been reduced to two and complimented with generously landscaped medians. The South end of the lake used to be a 12 lane street. That’s right: practically a highway. Planners cut those lanes by half and put them on an elevated bridge, accompanied by bike lanes and an adjunct foot bridge. A small park now stands between the road and the lake.

5. Reconnecting the Estuary

Lake Merritt was originally part of a tidal flat that was cut off from the estuary to create a more aesthetically pleasing lake. The destruction of the 12 lane road at the South end has connected the lake with the neck of the Lake Merritt Channel, and in the next two years a few more culverts will be removed to finally reunite it with the Estuary. This will allow the natural tidal system to operate freely in the lake for the first time in over 140 years.

Mayor Jean Quan celebrates the opening of the Lake Merritt Channel.

“Lake” Merritt and Alameda “Island” area circa 1800.

3. Wetland restoration

Lake Merritt became America’s first wildlife sanctuary in 1870, which unfortunately coincided with the slow destruction of the wetlands that supported the wildlife. The estuary reconnection mentioned above includes plans for a park and wetland restoration. Additional landscaping around the lake is recreating marshy areas and serving as natural management systems for storm water runoff, called bioswales.

Bioswale (in the background) and living roof.

The Lake Merritt Master Plan is reuniting Oaklanders with nature and the ancient Bay environment, hopefully to the great benefit of both. Go check it out for yourself!

Read more:

Polishing Oakland’s Crown Jewel,

Oakland Lake Merritt Master Plan

Gateway to the Bay reopened,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.