Architecture as Antidote: should cities make us fit?

Should architects be part of the growing campaign for ‘fit cities’; or is this just social engineering?

The cost of obesity to the UK economy is estimated to be in excess of £3.5bn with 62% of UK adults estimated to be overweight and 15% of children obese.

In this Olympic year, as the country’s attention turns to sport, exercise, health and fitness the London Festival of Architecture convenes this keynote debate to explore the creation of cities that will make us ‘fit’ through architecture and design.

The drive towards a ‘healthy city’ is most evident in New York City. One of the first cities to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, this was followed last May with new laws on smoking in outdoor areas including Times Square. This year the city authority proposed to ban alcohol advertising on public transport and more recently the sale of high calorie drinks over 500ml. Concurrently the USA's Fit Nation initiative, a partnership between the Health Department and the American Institute of Architects has been promoting healthier communities and living through design for over ten years. They claim to have increased cycling rates by 262 per cent from 2000 to 2010, thanks to investment in an expanded bicycle network; increased stair use by 50% (due to building design and signage); and to have improved public health by through the creation of outdoor gyms and improved street environments and pavements to support increased frequency and duration of walking. The model is being tested in other cities including San Diego and Washington DC.

Architecture as Antidote will be a frank discussion of the efficacy and morality of these initiatives. The event will draw together an international panel of speakers from the worlds of architecture, planning and medicine to interrogate the success and failure of such interventions and to debate the relevance of such an approach in the UK.

We will question whether politicians, architects and planners have a moral duty to tackle the rising levels of obesity through architecture and design; ask what the UK can learn from previous examples on the way cities are built and debate whether this requirement for buildings and cities to perform as physical stimulants will change the role of the architect. Most importantly we’ll ask what these measures mean for the freedom of citizens.

The debate is one of the London Festival of Architecture's key events, a critical exploration of this year's festival theme, ''the Playful City''.

Architecture as Antidote is kindly supported by Wordsearch and The Horseguards Hotel.

This is a ticketed event. Tickets are available for £5 from
This debate will start promptly at 7PM

Chair: Claire Fox
Claire Fox is Director of the Institute of Ideas (IoI) and a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. She is convener of the annual Battle of Ideas festival, which takes place this year at the Barbican in October; the IoI has also established the prestigious Debating Matters competition for sixth form students in the UK and India under Claire's direction.


David J. Burney
David Burney was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction in January 2004, launching a City-wide “Design and Construction Excellence Initiative” with the goal of raising the quality of design and construction of public works throughout New York City. Prior to joining DDC, Mr. Burney was Director of Design and Capital Improvement at the New York City Housing Authority, and practiced architecture with the New York Firm of Davis Brody & Associates.

Teva Hesse
Teva Hesse joined C. F. Møller Architects in 1995. He was project leader for the prize-winning Darwin Centre Phase II at the Natural History Museum which was the project that started the London branch of C. F. Møller Architects. Over the past 25 years he has developed experience in planning, design, detailing & construction of a wide variety of project types including, Urban Design, Commercial buildings, Residential schemes & Masterplanning, Laboratories and Museums.

Richard Horton
Richard Horton worked at the liver unit at the Royal Free Hospital, London after completing his medical training. In 1990, he joined The Lancet, becoming Editor-in-Chief five years later. He has a strong interest in issues of global health. He has been a medical columnist for The Observer and writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement and New York Review of Books. A book about controversies in modern medicine, Second Opinion, was published in 2003.

Mirko Zardini
Mirko Zardini, an architect, is the Director and Chief Curator of the Canadian Centre for Architecture since 2005. His research engages the transformation of contemporary architecture by questioning and relooking at the assumptions on which architects operate today. Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture (2011), his latest exhibition, exposes the excessive optimism in the therapeutic role of architecture.
Zardini has been editor for Casabella and Lotus International magazine and his writings have been widely published. He has taught design and theory at architecture schools in Europe and the United States.

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