MASS works primarily in resource-limited settings. Each project begins with an immersive research period that identifies the broader needs of the community being served. This initial step ensures that the buildings MASS designs aren’t just beautiful and functional, but also that they amplify the needs of the community as well as the mission of the client. The driving belief behind MASS Design’s work is that architecture is not neutral; it either helps or hurts. To acknowledge that architecture has this kind of agency and power is to acknowledge that buildings, and the industry that erects them, are as accountable for social injustices as they are capable of preventing them.
MASS Design uses a sustainable nonprofit business model; by fundraising to cover costs, MASS has found a way to provide services outside of a traditional design practice, such as job training and research, while also helping small NGOs afford high-quality design.
The practice’s first project, the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, began when MASS co-founders Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks met Partners in Health executive director, Paul Farmer. He commissioned MASS to design the hospital, and they consulted with local healthcare workers, Partners in Health, and the Harvard Medical School faculty to ensure that their design layout optimized patient and staff flow while implementing standard infection-control strategies. The result opened in 2011. MASS continues to develop the site, adding a housing complex for doctors and a training center, among other buildings. MASS has also consulted with the Rwandan government to improve current regulations for health care structures.
At the international level, MASS has collaborated with the World Health Organization and USAID to create an online assessment tool and database to assist architects and healthcare professionals working in high-risk areas. In Rwanda, MASS has partnered with the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology to aid them in creating the country’s first professional school of architecture.
Today, MASS has worked in over a dozen countries on projects ranging from schools to community centers to the Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which memorializes African American victims of lynching. Practice leaders have fostered public awareness of the way architecture can heal through lectures and talks.