Active design revolves around design in buildings, landscapes, or communities that prioritize human health. These are consolidated into the architectural design to promote physical activity for the residents living in a place in order to promote their wellbeing, helping people become healthier and thereby building a stronger community.
I think most of us know that maintaining or improving our health requires for us to watch what we eat and to move daily.
Wouldn’t it be great if we can have parks where we can meditate, practice yoga or tai chi, get together for zumba meet-ups, jog, hike, walk our dogs? Or if our living spaces already ensure that we do get to move as we go about our daily routines safely and comfortably—like having clearly demarcated bike paths, wide sidewalks or pavements for foot pedestrians to safely use, or an elevated walkway for people to get easily from one area of the city to the other. If we had these, I think more Filipinos would opt to walk instead of take their cars or take public transportation if the distance was not too far.
In Manila, we don’t have much of those types of areas. We can see people exercising in empty parking lots or jogging on the streets very early in the morning. Bikers are also becoming brave enough to take their space on very busy roads, choosing to bike at the crack of dawn, not only to beat the heat but also to avoid road accidents.
This is where active design comes in, when people’s need for physical activity and well-being are made central during the planning stage of neighborhoods and built environments.
Active Design to Address the Need for Physical Activity
If neighborhoods do not have spaces where people can exercise or play group sports, you may have noticed that some have commandeered the streets to set up their own basketball court, for example. Who among you have cursed these people because it has meant delays in your commute because of traffic build-up?
These situations are not found in gated communities or upscale condos which have their own parks, pools, social halls, or playgrounds for their residents to use.
Active design is not a stranger to many parts of the country though. Many towns in the Philippines are planned around a central area where the school, church, municipal hall, health center, plaza, park and sports areas are located. This is called the poblacion, which follows the basic plan of building a city or a town brought to the country by the Spaniards.
Today, the Pinoys have taken to going to air-conditioned shopping malls to spend the weekends or holidays in for family time. With the sweltering heat that is now upon us, we all can understand why.
However, during the pandemic when quarantine levels had eased up enough that we were able to leave our homes, many of us (re)discovered nature parks to spend time in.
Public spaces are outside are purview. But we could definitely use active design in our homes.
We can dedicate a place in your home for physical exercise. Read about creating your own workout set-up at home by clicking on the image below.
Here are more paint ideas for a home gym. Click on this link.
The space we make in our home may be too humble to call a home gym. But if it serves its purpose of improving our health, then it is already a success.
At the height of the lockdowns in 2020, many people turned towards gardening as a way to deal with the stresses of the pandemic. The healing activity gave birth to the plantitas and plantitos.
Being out in nature, breathing in fresh air, planting, and watching those plants grow became a calming activity, a kind of meditation, for many. The attraction to greenery grew, and the interest to have indoor gardens and outdoor gardens began trending.
Biophilic design became part of the new homeowners’ briefs to their architects and interior designers.
Another trend was to remove physical barriers between indoor and outdoor, or by creating that illusion through doors or windows that can be opened. Read this article to mine ideas about how you can have something similar in your own home.
What a great way to promote your health by doing your morning stretches or high intensity interval training in your very own oasis!
Examples of Active Design in Public Spaces in Other Countries
Active design is nothing new. But it has certainly become more and more important for designers and planners of public spaces.
Here are some examples of active design in other countries.
Piano Staircase in Odenplan, Stockholm
We know that taking the stairs instead of the escalator is healthier. But most of us have gotten soft and prefer the modern amenities.
This piano staircase was an initiative by Volkswagen that debuted in October 2009.
The experiment wanted to show that making the stairs more fun would change people’s behavior. True enough the experiment showed that 66% chose the stairs rather than the escalator.
Ciclovía in Bogota, Colombia
In 1976, Bogota’s Mayor Luis Prieto Ocampo signed decrees to support Ciclovía (streets which were temporarily closed to become bikeways). This took place on Sundays and holidays from 7 am to 2 pm. It allowed runners, skaters, cyclists to use 120 km of car-free streets for their workouts. Approximately 20% of the population, or 2 million people, enjoyed the space. Food and drinks in snack stalls also became a draw for locals and tourists.
This has inspired many other countries to adopt this initiative.
I see it also now in Makati and the events are announced in advance under #MakatiStreetMeet. I think this is the second Sunday that a major street in Makati Paseo de Roxas (#MakatiStreetMeetAtPaseo) has been closed to accommodate activities like bike racing, bike lessons, skating lessons, concerts, and snacks.
How Amsterdam Became a Bicycle Paradise
This is something that our cyclists can only dream about. This is how the Dutch get around from place to place despite having such efficient public transportation systems. It is said that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. What makes it so convenient and easy to do are the dedicated bicycle lanes with their own traffic lights all around the city, which is also true for the rest of the country.
Active Design for a Healthier Lifestyle
Unless you have the means to join a gym or to do your preferred sport, to get moving in our daily lives is not that easy in a metropolis like Manila. Factor in the long commutes to and from work and the usual long hours of sedentary work, it takes a disciplined and creative individual to carve out the time and space to integrate physical activity into his day.
But it is possible. Start at home and make it a bonding activity for the family. Maybe not everyone would welcome spending time in the hot outdoors rather than the air-conditioned mall, but take a page out of the makers of the piano stairs. Try to make whatever physical activity you can think of as fun. It may be difficult to get started in the beginning. I’m sure though that when you see the health benefits, like an increased vitality that you and your family members will start to enjoy, your attitude will change.
Endorphins will bring you euphoria, and the feeling of accomplishment for honoring your body will bring you joy.
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