Inspired by the “FitNation” exhibition in the U.S., New London Architecture (NLA), London’s Centre for the Built Environment, worked to bring it to London in June 2014 as part of London Festival of Architecture 2014, and introduced London examples that demonstrate how we are actively encouraging health and wellbeing in the city. “FitLondon” is currently on view outdoors in the cobbled crescent just outside of The Building Centre in central London (NLA and The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London), and will be on view until Friday, 07.25.14. We have activated the crescent with installations, working with the local community and professional networks to create an engaging environment, one which invites people to use the space in a variety of ways – illustrating the crescent’s potential as a new public realm in Fitzrovia.
The project celebrates design solutions to public health challenges, and the festival provides a platform to discuss innovation in design around the world. The exhibition seeks to demonstrate how practical changes to our cities, towns, and neighborhoods can encourage physical activity as a part of everyday life, establish healthier routines, and promote exemplary design. From a BMX Park by LDA Design to office signage by the Design Council aptly titled Active by Design Signage, the selected London case studies illustrate the interventions proposed and already in place to improve the wellbeing of Londoners.
Temporarily, the crescent is now a grassy pocket park, home to a pavilion by students from the University of East London, and an interactive obstacle course from Arup Associates, which asks the viewer to find answers to FitLondon-related questions. Seating was kindly designed by David Miller Architects. Ramboll created life-size FitNation active figures to hold the exhibition panels, meaning the space is continuously populated with active individuals, leading by example!
The exhibition and associated program of events officially opened on 06.28.14, marking the last weekend of London Festival of Architecture 2014. To mark the occasion we hosted a community sports day with croquet hosted by Fletcher Priest Architects, and ping pong with Ryder Architecture (all architecturally-inspired, of course), while NLA Chairman Peter Murray led groups on an exploration of local public realm improvements on tokyobikes, and a Bop Boogie dance class took place on the pavilion. This activity has continued in the crescent with lunchtime fitness classes throughout July.
We hosted a special FitLondon half-day conference on 07.01.14, which brought together urban planners, policy-makers, developers, and designers to examine how well London is promoting health and wellbeing through the design of our buildings, public spaces, and master plans. The event opened with a keynote presentation by Riccardo Marini of Gehl Architects, who stressed the importance of stimuli in public spaces, and discussed temporary interventions as the best way to illustrate an area’s potential.
After an invitation to the audience to get up and shake out their muscles, Yvonne Doyle, director of Public Health England, gave some startling statistics about health in the UK and the health risks of living in London. She illustrated gradual interventions that can slowly change lifestyles, using Take Care New York as an example. Lucy Saunders, public health specialist, Transport & Public Realm, representing Greater London Authority and Transport for London, elaborated on Transport for London’s “Improving the Health of Londoners: Transport Action Plan,” which is featured in the exhibition. It suggests ways in which the public realm and transport can support a healthier lifestyle, much like New York City’s Active Design Guidelines, which have led the field in encouraging policy makers in city planning, transportation, health, design, and construction to find solutions to today’s critical public health challenges. The FitLondon program has been a great opportunity to draw comparisons and learn from the U.S. NLA’s Murray expressed his gratitude for the inspiration:
“The AIANY Active Design Guidelines have been very influential for us in London, and we are grateful for the loan of the U.S. content of the ’FitLondon’ exhibition to help spread the word. Like many cities around the globe, the UK capital’s health costs are rising as a result of increasing obesity and diabetes; the Guidelines have shown architects and planners how the profession should respond. Thanks to Rick Bell, David Burney, and the Center for Active Design for pointing us in the right direction!”
The discussion surrounding FitLondon will continue on 07.24.14 with a Pecha Kucha event, which will further explore the projects in the exhibition and look at other interventions happening around the city. We hope to maintain the dialogue beyond this month of activity.
The effects of hosting FitLondon and the associated outdoor installations are visible every day – people flock to this new piece of public realm! It has shown us that urban interventions needn’t be complicated in order to be inviting. This pocket park has been a great success in illustrating how valuable these spaces are to the urban dweller, and how they can transform a community. Through this project we have managed to engage local businesses, residents, and professionals. The community sports day conversations about how we make the temporary permanent and what the next project should be for the crescent had already begun. Truly inspiring!
Keep updated on what’s happening: www.newlondonarchitecture.org
Lucie Murray is the programme coordinator at the NLA – London’s Centre for the Built Environment.