AIA executive vice president and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, set the stage for the Design Lab, a critical day-two session at the Clinton Global Initiative 2012 annual meeting. Ivy announced the AIA's 2012 decade-long commitment to building sustainable and resilient urban environments. In announcing the commitment, Ivy presented a tutorial in design thinking as a useful tool for generating collaborative solutions. He laid out this three-part process as one of rigorous fact collecting, non-linear exploration, and unrestricted examination as a potential road map to social change.

"We’re encouraging inclusiveness—that’s the whole point—to create a rich dialogue to get diverse members engaged and excited about the challenges," said Ivy.

The challenge at hand: How, as designers, can we design healthier urban environments that help to prevent chronic diseases? The consequences of urban living, as demonstrated by Johanna Ralston of the World Heart Foundation, are increased incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory illness, and diabetes. These chronic illnesses stem primarily from pollutants, lack of outdoor space, and poor access to healthy food choices endemic to cities.

And populations within cities are only growing. Rapid—and often unplanned—urbanization around the globe will bring the number of people living in cities to more than 5 billion people by 2050. This influx will not only increase our need for more built solutions, it will also compound the incidence of chronic illness for millions of people.


Led by John Cary of Public Interest Design and Liz Ogbu, a scholar in residence at the California Academy of the Arts, the Design Lab put forward a series of setpiece scenarios, so that members could explore ideas freely and collectively. They tackled a number of questions: How do we design outdoor space through the lense of public health? How can cities foster community building?

From Regina Benjamin, the U.S. Surgeon General, to Jake Andraka, a 15-year old that has developed an award-winning solution to the detection of pancreatic cancer, the participants were a diverse lot. A total of seven groups developed seven distinct concepts. Through each solution, from mobile greenmarkets to gamifying the urban environment, ran a similar thread: a desire to see cities act as smaller communities.

After the Design Lab, Ivy offered his perspective on where design thinking can lead: "By sparking off each other and encouraging human interchange across disciplines, this new way of thinking is an opportunity for architects to revitalize the profession through collaboration."