Recap :: Mass Design Group

By Angeline Focht, BArch Candidate

Mass Design Group is a not-for-profit design build firm, co-founded in 2007 by Alan Ricks and Michael Murphy. On Tuesday evening, April 10, Alan Ricks, Michael Murphy, and Sierra Bainbridge engaged in a lecture discussing their process as a team of designers, as well as the ramifications architecture can have after it is built. They presented their material with a series of questions and their response to those questions.

Alan started the lecture with a quick introduction of their work for the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. He posed the question, "If buildings can make us sick, can they also make us better?" The question spurred a discussion on collaboration in architecture. One of the biggest problems with the original building was that it was not designed for airborne infection control. To mediate this, the team worked with doctors and staff to understand how the infrastructure of the building was making things worse.

Through this collaboration, Mass Design Group designed a new hospital with open corridors, rather than enclosed ones, in order to bring fresh air and avoid overcrowding. Collaboration in our field is such an important aspect of design and without having conversations with the doctors and staff of the hospital, the decision to remove interior hallways may never have happened. I respect Mass Design Group for the way they let the client influence their design process.

After Alan’s talk about the process of design, Michael started discussing the after effects of design. How can a building change a community? We have a responsibility as designers to do more than design a building. How do we participate to choreograph the construction process?

In the Butaro hospital, instead of choosing a material that would be sourced elsewhere and brought in by machines, they taught members of the town mason work. These people were then paid for construction and left the project with skills that have brought them jobs since the hospital was built. This type of thinking created a positive change in the area that left not only the building better than when they got there, but also all of the people who were involved in its development.

Michael shared a quote by Giancarlo de Carlo, from ‘Space & Society,’ “Contemporary architecture tends to provide objects, while its real role should be that of generating processes.” He talked about how there should be no difference between ‘humanitarian architecture’ and ‘architecture.’ It is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable to projects and to learn from both the positive and negative outcomes.

As Mass Design Group proves, we as architects have the ability to generate change, be that positive or negative. We must be thoughtful in our work and design not for ego, but for people. In school, we learn to design for ourselves, to design the cool, eye catching building. But architecture is so much more than that. It’s about designing to create a positive impact.

To see more work by Mass Design Group, visit their exhibit in the first floor gallery or check out their website.