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November 6, 2013
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
AIA Birmingham Executive Director Rhéa Williams and Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director, listening to local band Dead Fingers from the Vulcan foundry tower.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
A newly installed sculpture for the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
Railroad Park, one of the case studies in FitNation, by Tom Leader Studio (Lead Designer), along with Macknally Ross Land Design, Giattina-Aycock Architecture Studion, HKW Associates, Radius Graphic Design and Kennedy & Violich Architecture.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
Active recreation in Birmingham: cardboard sledding.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
Alabama FitNation exhibition.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
A shared bike from Chattanooga in the FitNation exhibition.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
The pop-up Design Week gift shop and book store at the Alabama Center for Architecture.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
The Wilinger parking lot in Birmingham, Alabama, with a New York Yankees mural by Stephen Smith Fine Art.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA
FitNation canoeing near Birmingham.Credit: Rick Bell, FAIA

oh, I know you’ll say
I haven’t been here long…
but the things that you say
make me wanna stay
from “Closet Full of Bones,” by Kate Taylor Hollingsworth of Dead Fingers

The newest Center for Architecture opened in October in Birmingham, AL, last month. A storefront at 109 South Richard Arrington Boulevard, the 1896 building is in the heart of town. The opening ceremonies on 10.21.13 were attended by Birmingham Mayor William Bell and AIA National President Mickey Jacob, FAIA. On the occasion, AIA Birmingham President Robert Thompson, AIA, said “The Center’s vision encompasses a broad range of design issues that can bring a positive impact to the state.” He added, “Mayor Bell and Birmingham architects have a long history of partnership and friendship, especially during times of weather-related disasters such as the tornadoes of 2011.” The Alabama Center for Architecture, according to AIA Birmingham Past-president Ty Cole, AIA, who was instrumental in its creation, is “dedicated to developing the understanding of architecture and its influence on our lives, our communities and world.

The first exhibition to be shown in the Birmingham space is “FitNation,” on view at our own Center for Architecture in New York City earlier this year. With 33 projects from 18 cities, the southern version looks very similar to the Manhattan installation curated by Emily Abruzzo, AIA. Pentagram’s graphic template allows other locations to add their own projects; seven projects from Birmingham are in the reinstallation. At the Alabama Center for Architecture, the exhibition concluded AIA Birmingham’s Design Week festival. The exhibition was presented with the local chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The Alabama description says that “FitNation” shows “projects, both local and national, that exemplify architectural means, policy-drive and grassroots action, and simple improvements that lead to healthier lifestyles for individuals and communities.”

The examples in the “FitNation” exhibition show how architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and urban designers can encourage more physical activity in everyday life and, in so doing, help to reduce obesity rates nationwide. Alabama has the fifth highest overweight statistics in the country with 33.0% of the adult population exceeding the CDC definition of obesity. This number is slightly better than that for Louisiana (34.7%), Mississippi (34.6%), Arkansas (34.5%) and West Virginia (33.8%). New York State’s rate is the fourth lowest in the country, but still a staggering 23.6%. Interestingly, Birmingham as a city has a much lower rate, 23.3%, than the surrounding counties.

Dare I say that my short trip to Birmingham included not only visits to several of the sites in the exhibition, but also some very good food, including collard greens, okra, fried green tomatoes, and superb BBQ, eaten surreptitiously at one of the “FitNation” park sites. Railroad Park was designed by landscape architect Thomas Leader in collaboration with Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio and other team members in New York and Birmingham. That project was also exhibited at the AIANY Center for Architecture. Added projects included Avondale Park, Ruffner Mountain, Red Rock Ridge & Valley Trail System, Civil Rights Trail, Jones Valley Urban Teaching Farm, Red Mountain Park, and the Birmingham Bike Share Feasibility Study. Bike Share seems especially needed in Birmingham, and the “FitNation” exhibition may help catalyze its implementation.

The exhibition opening included introductory remarks by AIA Birmingham Executive Director Rhéa Williams at the Alagasco Center for Technology. Animated by ASLA, the program was also sponsored by Laura Marlow of Reed Construction Information, and attended by AIA National VP Don Brown, FAIA. AIA Birmingham staffers Rhéa Williams and Laurel Stiff have organized related programs, including a yoga session powered by Lulumon Athletica, a Design Thinking program by Jones Valley Teaching Farm on site, and a Fitness Nutrition Luncheon with Iron Tribe at the Alabama Center for Architecture. For those visiting Birmingham, “FitNation” is on view through 11.28.13, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement is ongoing.

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