Proper design can improve health care for people that are already sick, but can it also be used to prevent illness? Robert Ivy, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects believes it can. He believes in it so strongly that he and the American Institute of Architects are in the middle of a ten-year commitment to improving public health through intentional design by preventing non-communicable illnesses like obesity and asthma.
In the year 2000, only 13 percent of children biked or walked to school compared to the 66% in 1974. This could explain why the childhood obesity rate is at the highest it’s been at 17%. The cause of obesity, in general, is simply a lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits. With 35% of people in the US being obese and another 34% being just overweight, something needs to be done about Americans’ aversion to exercise. Public health officials and designers believe a solution could be creating more walkable cities. Manhattan’s High Lines took abandoned rail lines that went through the neighborhood of Chelsea and created an elevated park. This park includes trails that have a view of the Hudson River and the extensive botanical gardens found in the park. This creates a safe and enjoyable space for people to exercise and travel across the area.
The former head of the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Richard Jackson, believes the people who create and build the world have more influence on public health than doctors. The art of feng shui that has been practiced by the Chinese for thousands of years proves that the theory that design impacts health is not a new one. The problem is a lack of quantifiable data, which is why the initiative being led by the American Institute of Architects includes research grants on the impact of design on health.
Robert Ivy earned his B.A. of English cum laude from the University of the South and his Master’s in architecture from Tulane University in 1976. Before becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects in 2011, an organization with around 89,000 members, Robert Ivy worked for McGraw-Hill. At McGraw-Hill, Robert Ivy was the Editor in Chief of the Architectural Record, the leading architectural journal in the world. He was also the Vice President and Editorial Director of McGraw Hill Construction publications. Some of these publications include Constructor, Engineering News Record, as well as 16 websites. During his time with McGraw Hill, the Architectural Record earned dozens of recognitions and awards.
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Although the United States had produced many fine examples of architectural genius over the course of its first 80 years, it had no codified means of assuring who may be qualified to call themselves an architect nor any way of ensuring professional or ethical standards. Even though men ranging from presidents to industrialists had, themselves, dabbled in architecture – Thomas Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia being just one such example – the trade was not widely recognized as an important or even respectable profession.
It was for this reason that, in 1857, New York’s top architects got together with the intention of creating a professional organization that would serve themselves and others engaged in their chosen trade in much the same way that the American Bar Association serves the legal profession or the American Medical Association upholds the standards of the medical profession.
It was in this way that the American Institute of Architects came into being. The move would prove wise. The American Institute of Architects would prove to be instrumental in the fomenting of vibrant schools of architecture and structural engineering over the next few decades. At a time when the built environment in the United States was undergoing radical changes, the imposition of rigorous standards and ethical expectations was a means of reassuring a public that otherwise may have not accepted such novelties as riding to the 20th floor in an elevator.
But as it went, with the introduction of the first modern skyscraper, in 1884, the American city quickly began undergoing the transformation from largely earth-bound wood-framed structures to steel-framed obelisks that soared towards the heavens. By 1908, the Singer Building topped the world records for height, achieving a vertical measure of more than 612 feet. Only 20 years before, the tallest building in the world had been a mere sixth of that stature.
The sudden adoption of the skyscraper, made possible by the invention of the elevator and desirable by the invention of air conditioning, began radically changing the way in which the average urban American lived and worked. Suddenly, it was possible for the largest corporations to maintain a headquarters in one building, where the CEO was never more than five minutes from any of his underlings. Companies could now be located within walking distance to the country’s major banks. And people working in cities like New York had access to world-class entertainment, around the clock.
Through it all, the American Institute of Architects was there to ensure public confidence in the built environment.