It has been a year since Contract magazine completely surprised MASS Design Group with the 2012 Designer of the Year Award. It has been humbling, and the recognition has helped us expand our work beyond Rwanda into other Sub-Saharan African countries, throughout Haiti, and back here in the United States. We are pleased to give Contract readers an update on our activities in the past year.
For starters, MASS broke ground last summer on a tuberculosis (TB) hospital and a cholera treatment center (CTC) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a locale where the concept “design is never neutral” resonates visibly. More than a quarter million people died in the 2010 earthquake, due primarily to poorly built infrastructure. Cholera, a disease amplified by a failed sanitary system, has emerged in the earthquake’s wake, sickening more than 600,000 Haitians and killing more than 7,500. Aside from the numbers, the tragedy is that cholera is a wholly preventable, treatable disease that is solved at a basic level by access to clean water and decent sanitation.
In partnership with the Haitian healthcare pioneer Les Centres GHESKIO, MASS is working to break the infection cycles that perpetuate cholera and tuberculosis epidemics. MASS’s goal extends beyond patient treatment, aiming to establish a new paradigm for prevention through innovative infection control in the TB hospital or through a localized decontamination facility in the CTC that has the potential to be replicated city-wide. Due to the urgency of necessary healthcare, we took on these projects and agreed to help fundraise for their construction. We are aiming to raise another $250,000 in 2013 to finish construction and to help curb the epidemics in Port-au-Prince.
Holistic approach through partnerships
As with all our work, we are tackling these projects holistically, incorporating social considerations beyond healthcare, and amplifying the impact through expertise and opportunities shared through several fantastic partnerships. We’ve aligned with the Haitian construction firm YCF to train and employ 20 local construction apprentices and, thus far, more than $161,000 has been distributed into the local economy.
In October 2012, MASS led a weeklong design clinic with our partner Herman Miller focused on designing and producing a chair and bed tailored for cholera patients that would improve dignity, patient comfort, and infection control. The outcome was a physical prototype of each furniture piece, paired with fabrication manuals and a plan for bringing them to market—manufactured in Haiti by our partners at Maxima—at an affordable cost.
Although only a snapshot, this experience represents some of our greatest learning over the past few years: beyond adding another testament to employing local materials and labor, beyond more proof of the success of user-centric design, we’ve recognized the ability of these projects to infuse education that crosses hemispheres. The lessons learned in developing ventilation strategies for our tuberculosis center in Haiti or our pediatric hospital in Liberia have now influenced approaches for hospital renovation schemes in New York.
To invest in this south-to-north conversation, we announced the launch of the MASS Design Laboratory, in partnership with Shaw Contract Group, at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. The Lab will focus on built environment research globally, and will seek to deploy fellows and thought leaders to build knowledge exchange. MASS is currently seeking diverse stakeholders to launch the inaugural research project, Hospital of the Future, which will work to reconstruct our current vision of U.S. healthcare facilities.
By presenting us the 2012 Designer of the Year Award, Contract magazine has allowed us to collaborate with new entrepreneurs, experts, and innovators to make medical facilities, civic amenities and, effectively, places to heal. Together, we hope to continue to change the practice and purpose of building to change lives.