Model of Architecture Serving Society—aka MASS Design—is a Boston-based architecture firm that has created a niche practice in designing healthcare facilities in resource-limited settings, primarily in countries emerging from crisis. MASS brings high-quality design and implementation to where it is most needed, and at the same time brings other disciplines into architectural work (its core team includes public health professionals with no background in design). MASS’s working model demonstrates the importance and potential of good design in the medical realm, not just in terms of creating more beautiful spaces, but also in defining the best conditions to stimulate physical and psychological recovery.
MASS begins each project with an immersive research period that identifies the broader needs of the community each client or partner organization serves. This ensures that the buildings MASS designs aren’t just beautiful and functional, but also that they “amplify” the mission of the client (often an NGO) who commissioned them. For example, in areas with epidemic diseases like tuberculosis, this has meant introducing the latest standards in infection control to mitigate the spread of disease and create a greater public health benefit beyond a clinic’s doors. To accomplish these goals, 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 to afford high-quality design.
MASS Design was formed while most of its cofounders were still completing their degrees at Harvard’s Graduate School for Design. In 2007, when cofounder Michael Murphy was offered the opportunity to be the first architect to work with the well-respected NGO Partners in Health (PIH), he quickly assembled a team of colleagues and went to Rwanda to design a new hospital in the Burera District. They soon noticed that poorly designed facilities were helping TB and other diseases spread quickly. MASS saw that the design decisions they made could help curb an epidemic.
We’re serving clients that need to be served.
MASS consulted with local healthcare workers, PIH, and the Harvard Medical School faculty to ensure that the layout optimized patient and staff flow and implemented standard infection-control strategies. The Butaro Hospital opened in 2011, and MASS has continued to develop the site, adding an adjacent housing complex for doctors and a training center. MASS is also consulting with the Rwandan government in order to improve current regulations for health care structures.
In Haiti, MASS is working with the NGO GHESKIO to use the research it compiled during the Butaro project to rebuild a dedicated TB clinic that was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake as well as a Cholera Treatment Center in downtown Port au Prince.
MASS Design is also working to ensure that architectural insight becomes more commonplace in the aid world. At the international level, MASS is collaborating with the World Health Organization and USAID to create an online assessment tool and database that will assist architects and health-care professionals working in high-risk areas. And 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; the first class of 24 students will graduate next spring.