July 30, 2015

10 Questions With… Joanna Frank

Keep reading for a wake-up call, courtesy of New York City’s

Active Design Guidelines

, the first-ever publication to focus on designers’ role in tackling obesity and wellness—a necessary thing since physical activity has been designed out of our daily routines. Some proof:

• Total healthcare costs attributable to obesity in the U.S. in 2000 were estimated at $117 billion.

• 1 in 3 males and 2 in 5 females born in the U.S. today are at risk of being diagnosed with diabetes.

• Cycling 2.5 miles—less than the average commute—twice a day burns over 10 pounds annually.

These stats are pulled from the guidelines, created in 2010 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the help of

AIA New York

as a way to combat our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. In 2012, the city’s agencies went a step further by helping to launch the

Center for Active Design

, a not-for-profit organization committed to making health a central priority in the design and development of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods in New York and worldwide. Its executive director,

Joanna Frank

, tells us more.

Joanna Frank Portrait

Interior Design: What is Active Design?

Joanna Frank: It is an approach to the development of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods that uses architecture and urban planning to make daily physical activity and healthy foods more accessible and inviting. Inspired by the precedent of design impacting public health in the 19th century as recognized by the massive reduction in the spread of infectious diseases, Active Design builds on health research showing that design can impact today’s biggest health epidemics: obesity and its related chronic diseases. Active Design looks to create built environments that support all ages and abilities, and therefore embraces Universal Design principles.


What has been the center’s greatest achievement thus far?

JF: Building a broad, multi-sector following and raising awareness of Active Design. Our reach extends to 180 countries, across many disciplines, ranging from real estate development and design to health research.

ID: How have you done that?

JF: One way is through our

Excellence Awards

, which we launched last year in response to the demand from both the public and private sectors, for recognition of projects that had completed the Active Design Checklist found in the Active Design Guidelines. We had 40 submissions in 2014; this year, we


40 projects—the response more than doubled. This year’s six winners and five honorable mentions all placed health as their central design priority, but, in doing so, also had influence that extends to economic development.

ID: What are some obstacles to getting Active Design incorporated into projects?

JF: One is knowledge of Active Design from the outset of a project. Many of the strategies are low- or no-cost when incorporated at the schematic phase, such as providing informational and/or motivational signage to encourage stair use at points where users decide between taking stairs or elevators/escalators, or incorporating plants and greenery into spaces to increase access to nature. Developers should also be aware that reducing usage of elevators/escalators promises benefits for the environment and attendant cost savings, since mechanized conveying systems account for approximately 3 to 10 percent of a building’s energy use. And designers should be aware of the

LEED Physical Activity Innovation credit


ID: Which city is doing best at land-use mix?

JF: NYC continues to do a great job using Active Design principles. The county of Sacramento has been incorporating them into transportation initiatives, and the Colorado Housing Authority has incorporated them into its affordable-housing developments.

ID: Are any schools teaching Active Design?

JF: Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment associate professor David Burney, who is our board chair and who wrote the Active Design Guidelines while he was commissioner of the DDC, is starting an Urban Placemaking and Management program; Active Design will be one of its key components.

ID: How does your background as an architect, a developer, and director of FRESH help with your current role?

JF: My background, especially in real estate development and food access through


, adds to our center’s multidisciplinary reach; our expertise covers health research, architecture, urban planning, graphic design, and communications. This broad spectrum allows us to effectively translate between health research, design, and development to create practical design strategies that resonate with our varied audience.


What initiatives is the center working on now?

JF: We are currently working on a new publication,

Active Design: Workplace Wellbeing

, to be released in May 2016. In the area of workplace, we are also conducting original research evaluating specific Active Design strategies; the ASID Foundation is funding this work.


The guidelines came out before the arrival of Citi Bike. Was the center involved in getting that program here?

JF: No, we were not. However, we do love Citi Bike, and the center provides memberships to its staff.

ID: The center’s office just moved to Union Square. Are you liking the new neighborhood?

JF: Yes. One of the reasons we chose Union Square was the great access to public transportation and the Greenmarket, with its fresh, healthy produce. In our actual space, everyone now uses either a standing desk or a convertible computer arm, based on individual needs.

C:fakepathBD CMYK2

C:fakepathCSM Logo Opaqueicon Black

C:fakepathCorian Zodiaq Horizontal No Tag CMYK


C:fakepath�9 Logo GROUPE LACASSE Cool Gray


C:fakepathLSI Healthcare Logo Blue Copy

C:fakepathMC AMTICO Gray

C:fakepathC Mats Inc Logo (no Tagline) 3 Color

C:fakepathRMH Registered

C:fakepathShaw Contract Group Logo 300dpi

C:fakepathSC Health 424 LG Process

C:fakepathContract Defiance 61K


C:fakepathCS Pos

C:fakepathcs Logo

C:fakepath38 WIELAND HC Logo

Recent DesignWire