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03.08.2013
Emerging Voices> MASS Design Group
Boston-based architecture firm uses design to affect social change.
Butaro Hospital, Burera District, Rwanda.
Courtesy MASS Design Group

The Architectural League’s 31st annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the future direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture this month in Manhattan. The next lecture takes place on Thursday, March 14 at 7:00 p.m. when dlandstudio and MASS Design Group will present their work.

MASS Design Group

Boston

In 2007, when Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, founding partners of MASS Design Group, were immersed in designing the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, Ricks saw a newspaper headline telling architects,“If you are in college and want a job, don’t major in architecture.”

Reading that, he recently recalled, he saw a “profound disconnect” between the bleak job market and the very real and critical demand for the expertise and skills that architects have to offer.

 
Butaro Hospital, Burera District, Rwanda.
 

“What we’ve [since] found is a kind of diminishing value ascribed to what architects provide in the marketplace and society, and this has been reflected in sustained high unemployment and headlines in the New York Times,” Ricks said.

MASS Design Group, which seeks to improve health and the quality of life through design, saw firsthand through its work abroad “an opportunity to rearticulate the instrumentality of architecture to effect change, and in doing so, bolster the market for architects and what is demanded for architects,” said Ricks.

Nyanza Maternity Hospital, Nyanza, Rwanda.
 

The firm grew out of a chance encounter between Murphy, who was a student at that time at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), and Dr. Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH). In 2006, Murphy attended a lecture by Dr. Farmer, on campus, which later developed into a conversation about how architects could contribute to the mission of PIH to provide better health care.

A year later, Murphy and Ricks, a fellow GSD student, formed MASS Design Group, and, with PIH, began work on Butaro Hospital.

 
Redemption Pediatric Hospital, Monrovia, Liberia.
 

The firm, composed of a team of nearly 20 architects, has worked on projects throughout Africa, in Tanzania, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, more recently, Haiti. Those facilities, built from locally-sourced materials, use advanced technology to mitigate the spread of disease—whether that means a design for the Nyanza maternity hospital that employs natural ventilation and solar chimneys, or a project for doctors’ housing, also in Rwanda, that will create jobs for the local population and spur training in sustainable building.

“We have the greatest opportunity in places that are more open to innovation and less hamstrung by legacy systems that restrict the ability to develop new approaches,” said Ricks. “MASS’ goal for expansion is to create great projects that profoundly effect great outcomes, particularly in terms of space and developing economies.”

Nicole Anderson

 

Gheskio Tuberculosis Hospital, Port-au-Prince, HaiTi.