Describe the underlying philosophy of the work of MASS Design Group as it relates to social change.
Murphy: All architects and designers actually believe that their work is meant to produce positive social change. What design and architecture doesn’t produce positive social effect? And if it doesn’t, should we be doing it at all? If the goals of the organization, or the community, is to bring in this kind of infrastructure with new architecture and new design to improve lives, then so, too, should our goals be that. It should not simply be to generate revenue but actually to improve lives. And that, as we’ve seen, is what actually generates new revenue.
Considering that the Butaro Hospital was the first hospital you’ve designed, and it is in an amazing, challenging context in rural Rwanda, how did you partner to ramp up your knowledge base related to healthcare design?
Ricks: We did not approach the project feeling that we already had all the answers. Our process focuses on asking questions and leveraging an immense amount of knowledge in areas such as healthcare. We had access to groups like Partners in Health, the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and Centers for Disease Control—organizations that have a wealth of knowledge in this. What those organizations needed was someone to translate their knowledge into the built environment. This is the one of the key things that architects and designers can provide—expertise to recognize the key challenges, distill that content, and be a translator for a diverse group of entities all seeking to achieve the same mission.
Describe how the Butaro Hospital project, for example, has opened doors to other project possibilities at other scales.
Ricks: In Butaro, we didn’t want to just be this one example in the mountains of Rwanda. We’re working with the Ministry of Health in Rwanda to find a way to create standards that show this as a model of process, not as a prototype. One of the things fundamental to our approach is the idea of being contextually responsive, and that has opened the door to many other opportunities. For example, we’re working with the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare not only to master plan a facility but to create the policies needed to assure that this is something that happens across the board.
Murphy: In Haiti, we’re working on a factory project for an organization called Thread, which recycles plastic and then produces a high-strength fiber that it sells off to organizations like North Face. We’re getting a deep understanding of a production-line system for a recycling enterprise in Haiti. This is what market exploration is about.
What are the lessons from Butaro Hospital that you are applying to the multiple projects (page 47) in your growing portfolio?
Ricks: We see a huge opportunity to come in early in a process as a partner and seeing through the successful delivery of a mission. Rather than providing a discrete design service such as delivery of plans alone, we want to be fundamental to shaping and achieving a mission.
Murphy: Some of the generative questions that drive our organization after Butaro Hospital are: What if every person who works on this project is from the community in which it’s meant to serve? What if every material that we use in a project is taken from the local environment, the local community in which it’s being built for? And furthermore, what if buildings that are making us sicker are actually designed to make us healthier? It’s not only about hospitals. It’s about any infrastructure that can help strengthen communities across the world.
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