The relationship between the environment and development is interconnected, necessitating a deliberate and systematic integration of both elements into the design process. This approach is essential to create environmentally friendly designs and ultimately achieve sustainable development.
Sustainable development has emerged as a worldwide concept, serving as a means to move away from previously dominant development models that have shown a lack of equilibrium in addressing both human needs and environmental concerns in the quest for prosperity.
At its core, sustainable development entails a growth pattern that seeks to fulfill present human needs while safeguarding the environment, ensuring that these needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations.
Architecture poses a distinctive challenge in the realm of sustainable development. Construction projects typically consume vast amounts of materials and generate significant waste, often requiring a delicate balance between preserving historically significant buildings and pursuing newer, more modern designs. Sustainable development is crucial for ensuring environmental stability on our planet. Its primary objective is to conserve natural resources and utilize them with great care to protect Earth from devastation. Architects, being the principal builders in the environment, have a monumental responsibility in the field of sustainability.
Mass Design Group
In 2008, MASS Design Group was established during the planning and construction of the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda. Since then, the firm has expanded its operations to over a dozen countries across Africa and the Americas. Their work spans a wide spectrum, including building design, research, policy development, education, and strategic planning.
An acronym representing a model of architecture dedicated to serving society has established a practice focused on the concept of service in the built environment. According to the team, spatial design plays an integral role in discussions concerning society, the environment, and justice. Michael Murphy, the founding principal and executive director of the MASS design group, emphasizes that design choices are not neutral but rather have a significant impact on our lives. Whether architecture and design can harm or heal us is an ongoing and crucial debate within design circles.
The inception of MASS Design Group stemmed from the recognition that the impact of architecture extends beyond individual structures. Guided by their belief in the Model of Architecture Serving Society (MASS), they firmly hold that architecture plays a vital and transformative role in empowering communities to confront their history, shape fresh narratives, foster collective healing, and envision new possibilities for the future.
This notion emerged as a provocation around 12-15 years ago, building upon the ideas of previous advocates such as William Morris and the arts and crafts movement. Now, amid a pandemic where many find themselves confined to their homes, the significance of the spaces inhabited has become even more apparent. The spaces we live in directly influence our daily lives and access to fundamental human rights, such as the right to breathe uncontaminated air. Consequently, decisions about space are deeply intertwined with our overall well-being and should be carefully considered to address these critical concerns.
How is Work Done?
The MASS Design Group believes in the inherent mission of every project they undertake. Throughout the design process, they actively collaborate with their partners, from the initial stages of envisioning to the final project completion, working together to establish and execute a unified vision aligned with the project’s purpose. Their multidisciplinary approach involves expertise in various areas such as architecture, landscape design, furniture design, engineering, planning, research, construction, film, and community engagement.
A fundamental aspect of their work is the commitment to contributing to a climate-positive future.
Their projects extend beyond mere considerations of energy use and efficiency. They take a comprehensive approach, designing the entire project ecosystem to be sustainable, resilient, and regenerative, encompassing the entire supply chain. Employing a One Health design strategy, they create diverse, healthy, and productive habitats that cater to human, animal, and ecological growth.
The MASS Design Group comprises a team of more than 200 professionals hailing from 20 countries worldwide. Their collective vision is to make purposeful, healing, and hopeful design accessible to a broader audience.
It is driven by its mission to advance architecture that upholds justice and human dignity, and it emphasizes the significance of collaboration with partners, particularly when working in resource-limited environments. An excellent example of this approach is demonstrated in their work at the ‘Butaro Hospital’ in Rwanda, where they teamed up with health partners to improve healthcare access in the country’s most impoverished areas.
Christian Benimana, the Senior Principal and Managing Director of MASS Design Group, acknowledges the challenges inherent in their profession, especially in resource-limited settings like Rwanda. Working in such contexts often requires tough decisions due to the scarcity of resources. However, partnering with others alters the dynamics and opens up possibilities for finding inventive solutions to address pressing issues. The emphasis lies in prioritizing and selecting the right partners to collectively achieve their objectives. The ‘Butaro Hospital project exemplifies how effective partnerships can lead to successful outcomes and enable them to tackle more significant questions. The belief is that innovation knows no limitations based on available resources; rather, it thrives through collaboration and creativity.
In recognition of their outstanding contributions to the field, the American Institute of Architects honored them with the prestigious 2022 AIA Architecture Firm Award in 2021. Moreover, the Wall Street Journal acknowledged them as the Architecture Innovator of the Year in 2020, recognizing their roots in healthcare and their dedication to using architecture as a medium for healing. Additionally, Architect Magazine ranked MASS fourth on its list of Top 50 Firms in Design in 2019, and in 2017, they were recipients of the National Design Award in Architecture, an esteemed accolade presented annually by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
DESIGN, M. Mission, Home. Available at: https://massdesigngroup.org/about.
Umeora, C. (2013) The role of the architect in Sustainable Development in Nigeria, SSRN.
Daily, A. Mass Design Group, ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/office/mass-design-group