Where the Sidewalk Ends

Mobile, Alabama

In January of 2012, I participated in a week-long winter break trip to Mobile, Alabama, hosted by the University of Minnesota Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter.  I was immediately taken back by the hospitality and kindness shown to our group by everyone we met while we were in Mobile, and I was equally taken back by the charm of the city and of the area. To this day, I still consider Mobile to be one of the most overlooked and underrated cities in the United States – a true hidden gem in the American South.

 

My fondness for Mobile is paralleled by alarm, however, in that Alabama consistently ranks in the top five most obese states, and Mobile’s largely auto-oriented layout, reminiscent of so many American cities, compounds the problem.  For this reason, I chose Mobile as a case study of the affects that building and urban design have on obesity and diet-related diseases.

While there are many factors involved in the cause of obesity, the factor of the physical environment is one that can have significant and positive benefits if it is properly addressed by urban planners and building designers, and can lead to positive changes in the behavioral and sociological factors that also contribute to obesity. I cannot guarantee that a well-designed space or a well-placed grocery store will send neighborhood obesity rates plummeting, but it is a very important first step.

After months of extensive research, I am happy to share my findings and my proposed solutions as they relate to Mobile.  I am even more excited to report that I am not alone in identifying the critical role that design plays in fighting the obesity epidemic. Robert Ivy, FAIA, Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects (AIA,) recently wrote an article discussing the role of design in public health and in creating healthy communities, and calling on the profession to seriously address health through architecture.

Design schools are also starting to recognize the importance of public health in architecture and design. The University of Virginia School of Architecture’s Center for Design and Health and The University of Arkansas Community Design Center are research organizations and independent studios that are pioneering the integration of health issues into design curriculums. Other schools are also taking on the issue, such as the Clemson School of Architecture, which offers an ‘Architecture + Health Concentration’ within its program.

I look forward to entering a profession that so deeply cares about human health, and is on the verge of being more cognizant than ever of the role that design really does play on human health. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study this in great detail at such an early point in my career, and am proud to share my findings of this study with you below.


PROJECT TYPE
TERMINAL THESIS PROJECT

CONSTRUCTION TYPE
NEW CONSTRUCTION

INSTRUCTORS
VANESSA CASS
JOSHUA HILTON
HAJO NEIS, PHD

LOCATION
MOBILE, ALABAMA

YEAR
2014

EXHIBITIONS
UNIVERSITY OF OREGON GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCH FORUM, 2014
WHITE STAG BLOCK SELECTED WORKS EXHIBIT, 2014


This project is a conceptual, urban, and architectural response to an extensive research study conducted of the trends, causes, and effects of obesity in America.

VIEW PROJECT RESEARCH

CONCEPTUAL RESPONSE

Grocery store availability has significant positive effects on neighborhood health, including lowering obesity rates, reducing the prevalence of diet-related disease, and lowering food costs overall.  But grocery stores alone may not be enough to change behavior.  The current model is successful for profit, not for health.  What if the shopping
experience was rethought to maximize efficiency and act as a tool for education and inspiration, not just sales?  This can be achieved by distilling the components of the current model into three categories: public, private, and digital, each optimized to serve their individual roles in the most efficient and helpful way possible, taking advantage
of modern technology to mitigate impulse shopping and help guests meet their health goals.  This also frees up shopping time to allow guests to learn about new food items and recipes, visit the community garden, or play a game of catch with their kids while their grocery order is compiled and delivered to them in real-time.

PROPOSED iPAD APP TO HELP GUESTS’ GROCERY LISTS MEET THEIR HEALTH AND WELLNESS GOALS

PROPOSED URBAN INTERVENTIONS

PROPOSED STREET DESIGN RETROFITS

context diag

ground floor
circ diag
sustainability