On Health II: Amsterdam Health Kitchen

The widespread emphasis on healthy living and the demand for creating environments, cities and buildings accordingly has aligned with the ongoing integration of technology into daily life as a means of measuring the performance of the world around us. But despite the abundance of self-monitoring sensor technology that digitally records and measures every move we make, where our built environments are concerned we seem to be unable to substantially change our attitudes towards embracing a healthier lifestyle. These environments have remained mostly unchanged for decades.

Today’s definitions of health are complex and far-reaching. Health influences, informs and conditions an increasingly broad spectrum of our lives. It has evolved as an industry, an aesthetic, an attitude and a mode of design. Health has shifted from the modern paradigm of a seemingly universal social right, to being the responsibility of the individual, meaning the motivation for creating healthy environments for life, work and play can now be both altruistic and opportunistic, and the environments themselves, both sensual and high-tech.

Inevitably, health as a value system and a commodity is being appropriated by a diverse set of players. The economy uses it as a means to attract talent, increase productivity and sell a lifestyle, while the rise of “smart” cities competing for attraction and visibility on a crowded global stage sustains the importance of health as a public service or policy. In the pursuit of creating healthier, more liveable cities, what is the shared responsibility between these sectors and how do they interface? Could a radical urban and architectural proposition balance the increasing deterioration of our wellbeing?

Within this discussion, urbanists and architects profess that one of their core competencies is to create environments that are attuned to the needs of their users; that go beyond areas of tension between public and private patronage, codes, rules and regulations.

This studio will explore the challenges and potentials for Healthy Life in dense metropolitan developments. Amsterdam enjoys a rich history of city development with an emphasis on social emancipation and has served as a laboratory – or as we view it – an “experimental kitchen” for continual interest in the topics of technology, sustainability, health and wellbeing.

The studio will take a position in the discourse in terms of the interaction between built physical and digital systems with respect to human behavior, private initiatives, and public policy through the architectural and urban design of a new city district in Amsterdam– the Sluisbuurt. A field trip to Amsterdam is part of the course.

This exploration into the expanding notions of what health means today brings the discussion to the foreground and frames it as an urgent architectural concern. In so doing, the proposals will necessarily divert from the standard models currently offered by and perpetuated through the building market and refocus towards a future of Healthy Living.