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Battle of Ideas Festival: should architects be social engineers?

AJ deputy editor Rory Olcayto will take part in the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Barbican later this month in a session entitled, Designing citizens: architects as nudgers.

The 90 minute debate centres on social engineering and will ask whether architects have a moral duty to shape societal values around issues of health and wellbeing.

Olcayto will be joined on stage by Henry Ashworth, chief executive of The Portman Group and a former member of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team, The British Council’s Alistair Donald, Spiked associate editor Rob Lyons and Elly Ward of Featherstone Young.

Full detail of the session, at 1.30pm, 20 October, can be found here.

Now in its ninth year, the Battle of Ideas festival will focus on the changing nature of the public and private spheres in a hyper-connected world.

Other speakers throughout the two-day event beginning 19 October, include Times columnist David Aaronovitch, broadcasters Lesley Riddoch and Clare Fox, Sam Jacob of FAT and the Mayor of London’s aviation advisor Daniel Moylan.

Designing citizens: architects as nudgers?

Sunday 20 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Cinema 3 Urban Life

Healthy City pioneer, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argues, ‘we have a responsibility as human beings to save lives,’ suggesting a government’s ‘highest duty’ is to make ‘healthy solutions the default social option’. In the UK, former Design Council boss David Kester says architects should be placed ‘slap in the middle’ between ‘policy narrative and user experience’, arguing, ‘we are very emotional and highly suggestible beings and we as architects are certainly shaping feelings and by designing buildings shaping outcomes’.

Two thirds of people in the UK are said to be overweight or obese, and planners and designers are increasingly called upon to ‘shape outcomes’ by creating neighbourhoods and buildings that promote active and healthy lifestyles. Is the movement to design ‘fit cities’ a realistic and desirable development, and if so, what role should designers play in it? When designing out the ‘wrong’ type of food shops, hiding lifts so to encourage stair use, or banishing car parks to the edge of estates to ‘encourage’ people to walk, are we simply making it easier for citizens to do the right thing, or arrogantly making people’s decisions for them? Does the curious nudge mantra of ‘making things easy by making things difficult’ mean designers acting on a moral duty to save us, or engaging in social engineering?

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