Designing for Health

Creating school environments that facilitate healthy eating and physical activity among children is a recommended national strategy to prevent and reduce childhood obesity.

Dining Commons

Project Overview

Obesity-Fighting Design Guidelines
The Buckingham school’s architect is collaborating with public health researchers from the Universities of Nebraska and Virginia to document how health-promoting design strategies can support active communities and reduce incidence rates of childhood obesity. Together, the design-research team co-wrote “Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture” (2012, CDC) —a replicable set of design guidelines that can be adopted by school communities to support the development of FoodSmart Kids™.

Food Literacy
At its center, the Buckingham K-5 campus features a reconceived Dining Commons that connects the primary and elementary schools and serves as an active and engaging hub for the entire community. Unique shared-use spaces (such as a food lab, demonstration teaching kitchen,  and outdoor gardens) promote awareness of what nutritious food looks like, where it comes from, and how it can provide healthy fuel for activity and learning.

Movement & Activity
The entire campus encourages movement and supports learning through flexible, customizable spaces.  Physical design elements such as large inviting stairways, open gathering spaces, and outdoor walking paths and play terraces inspire activity and interaction among the school community. On a smaller scale, flexible furniture supports rapid reconfiguration and accommodates student movement to help increase concentration and engagement in the learning process.

Educational Signage & Wayfinding
The campus’ graphics reinforce the branding of health by strategically scattering inquiry-based facts and health-related lessons about human and environmental systems throughout the school campus. Stairways, water fountains, and healthy food options, co-located with related facts and lessons, become design interventions prompting discussion about activity and movement, hydration, and healthy eating choices, among other topics.


  • Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.
  • Less than 25% of adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables each day.
  • 4% of elementary schools provide daily physical education.
  • Less than 20% of all children walk to school.
  • This could be the first time in U.S. history that the current generation has shorter life spans than their parents.


Further Reading: