With a mission to design, build, and advocate for buildings that improve health and strengthen communities, MASS Design Group is creating change for the good. Celebrated for the innovative design and cost-efficient construction of its Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, the firm is currently working on several new projects across the globe, including two much-needed facilities on the island nation of Haiti, which is still recovering from the earthquake of January 2010. This fall, Herman Miller will be proudly sending a team to the site to help facilitate a furniture workshop for its new Cholera Treatment Center. Take a look inside the group’s Boston-based workspace and get a glimpse at the beginning of the Port au Prince project in this quick tour.
What year was your firm established? What led to that point? MASS was co-founded by then-Harvard graduate students, Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, in 2008. Deciding to take a break from design charrettes, Michael attended a lecture by Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer, and the conversation about how a built-environment has a direct impact on our lives, especially health, began. This led to the building of our most celebrated project, the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, in 2011. Now, MASS is a 501(c)(3) pending firm and we’re looking forward to continual growth.
Tell us about your studio space. Any special considerations that influenced its set up? What do you like or dislike? At MASS, we value collaboration. Everyone brings something valuable to the table, so naturally, our studio space reflects this dynamic. Our main working space is modeled like a conference room, with individual tables joining together to make one big communal table. We have a cute little nook that is encased in glass which gives a nice view of the courtyard (its Herman Miller furniture makes the space even cooler). We also have a small presentation room where we all can convene and critique presentations before they are completed as final, polished versions. We just recently upgraded one of our walls in the main working space to be a whiteboard for project tracking.
With several projects happening around the world at the same time, what does a typical day in Boston look like? How do you coordinate with teams in the field? There is no typical day in Boston as the team is always coming in and out from our different sites and offices around the world. The faces you see around the table one day could be different from the next. With lots of projects on the docket, we put in long hours to deliver the best designs to the communities and partners we work with, but try to keep it fun. Because we have such a global team, we have had to get creative in coordinating conference calls between multiple time zones and spotty connections. There have been many early morning and late night Skype calls as well as some interesting devices to make it all work. One of the most satisfying feelings is when our team members from different sites get to meet face to face after months (or even longer!) of exclusive communication through technology.
Have any of your projects influenced the design of your space? Our space is filled with models and boards from all of our past projects. Our communal work space puts everyone from principals to interns, designers, and researchers in the same room and at the same long table. Aside from our couch space, we don’t have any closed off or private offices. We think this allows for a more collaborative design process and work culture across all of our projects.
What are you working on at the moment? We have a lot going on! We just broke ground on two health facilities in Port-au-Prince, Haiti [photos below], and are finishing up a housing complex for doctors and staff working at the MASS-designed Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. This summer we are also working on the design of a pediatric hospital in Monrovia, Libera, for the John Snow Institute; a renovation of an old facility to create the first cancer center in Rwanda; and an ongoing research project that is working to create a database of design methods for infection control around the world. Exciting things are happening at MASS — stay tuned.