MASS Design Group

MASS Design Group



MASS Design Group Named WSJ Magazine’s Architecture Innovator of the Year

By hello@mass
Nov 17, '20 4:07 PM EST
Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture in Bugesera, Rwanda. Image credit: MASS Design Group
Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture in Bugesera, Rwanda. Image credit: MASS Design Group


BOSTON, NOV. 16, 2020 -- MASS Design Group, a design collective dedicated to delivering architecture that promotes justice and human dignity, was named a WSJ Magazine Architecture Innovator of the Year, for inspiring talents in a variety of cultural pursuits every November for a decade. MASS was recognized for their origins in healthcare and designing architecture as a medium for healing, through its public-health expertise and ability to reimagine spaces for everyday life. 

“We are truly humbled to be recognized among such visionaries,” said MASS co-founder and executive director Michael Murphy. “Our collective believes in the power of architecture to improve lives, spread dignity, and advance justice. This award confirms that those aspirations are shared by the public as well."

The award was presented by artist Hank Willis Thomas, a collaborator with MASS on projects such as, “The Writing on the Wall,” a traveling exhibition constructed from essays, poems, letters, stories, drawings and notes written by individuals in prison around the world, as well as the, “The Embrace,”  memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, sponsored by nonprofit King Boston. It will be built in the Boston Common, where King led a freedom march in 1965. 

MASS was recognized for a range of initiatives, starting with their COVID-19 Response Team work, based on more than a decade's worth of work designing hospitals and clinics around the world with a focus on reducing the spread of infectious diseases. The 2020 work started with the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program, a social-service agency providing medical care to thousands of homeless Bostonians, and doctors at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, both asking for advice on how to keep clients, patients, and healthcare workers safe from infection. Leveraging its expertise from a dozen years of design of medical environments to reduce the spread of contagious disease, MASS applied these lessons to the development of guides for restaurants and foodservice, carceral environments, the construction industry, and housing in senior and Native communities.

MASS got its start with the design and building of the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, a project of Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health in 2011. This seminal project, proving that architecture could promote justice and human dignity, led to the design of a medical campus with 12 buildings, creation of new hospital design guidelines for Rwanda, and two district hospitals, currently under construction. The design collective starts construction on its biggest healthcare project to date, a 500-bed teaching hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city with one of the most dense populations on earth, with Nobel Prize–winning social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus. A second hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, is nearly completed. In December, MASS will complete work on its first U.S. outpatient medical facility, when the Family Medical Center at Virginia Parkway, in McKinney, Texas will open its doors.  

With its main offices in Boston and Kigali, Rwanda, MASS has expanded from healthcare work into design of schools and universities, affordable housing, and monuments and memorials, including one of the collectives most recognized project in the U.S., Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in Montgomery, Ala. in 2018. 

“Our success is a tribute to the support and commitment of our partners and staff members who have helped us grow our reach and expertise,” said MASS Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer Alan Ricks. “We are committed to the belief that architecture has the ability to provide healing, rejuvenation, and restoration for everyone. MASS takes care in selecting and pursuit of projects that can meet and achieve our partners’ missions.”  

Recently, MASS has been engaged as architects and builders for The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in northern Rwanda, African Leadership University Kigali campus, and the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). Conceived and funded by the American philanthropist Howard Buffett’s foundation, in partnership with the Rwandan government, RICA aims to have the most sustainable campus in Africa when its timber and rammed-earth buildings, surrounded by savanna woodlands, are finished next year. Recognizing the urgency of climate change, MASS hopes to establish the woodlands as its own carbon bank. 

“Everywhere we work, be in the U.S. or Rwanda or elsewhere, we look for local solutions that produce results and help society move forward,” said MASS Senior Principal and Design Director Christian Benimana, based in Kigali. “We are building a network of architects who can help Africa's booming cities flourish in sustainable, equitable ways - balancing growth with values that are uniquely African. We recognize that growth of nations, including in Africa, will require infrastructure, but also provide insightful, meaningful, and new solutions to how we design the cities and places we live. Justice, beauty, and solutions don’t stop at borders.” 

MASS is also working on solutions for sustainable design and food systems domestically and globally, as well as on “Fringe Cities,” small post-industrial cities that were once thriving and are now lacking in jobs, investment, and resources. 

“Helping build a climate positive future is imperative,” said MASS Senior Principal and Managing Director Sierra Bainbridge, who is also a landscape architect. “Our projects move beyond just issues of energy use and efficiency, to holistically design the project ecosystem, including an entire supply chain that is sustainable, resilient, and regenerative. One Health design is a strategy that produces diverse, healthy, and productive habitats for human, animal, and ecological growth.”

Last year, MASS published a monograph of work, Justice is Beauty. An exhibit on MASS's work will be on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., slated to open in 2021. The exhibit will also include the second iteration of a new national memorial to the victims of gun violence, developed by MASS in partnership with conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas; gun violence prevention organization Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety; along with other nonprofits, survivor networks, and community allies. Another museum show that tells a story of  the history of design in response to pandemics—including the Spanish flu of 1918 and the current pandemic—opens late 2021 at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Watch the WSJ Innovator Award video presentation

Read the WSJ Magazine article

2020 WSJ Innovator Award honorees and presenters included Ava DuVernay, BTS, Darren Walker, Ethan Hawke, Hank Willis Thomas, James Corden, Jennifer Lopez, Maluma, MASS Design Group, Michaela Coel, Patti Smith, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Swizz Beatz, Taraji P. Henson, Titus Kaphar and Tyler Perry.


MASS, a Model of Architecture for Society, was founded in 2008 as a non-profit organization motivated by an idea for a different way of practice. MASS grew to include many colleagues and contributors who worked together to design and build the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, a project of Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health. Since then, the organization has grown to a team of 140 architects, landscape architects, engineers, builders, furniture designers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers representing 20 countries across the globe. MASS operates design labs including the Restorative Justice Design Lab in Boston; Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab in Sante Fe, N.M.; and the Food Systems and Fringe Cities Lab in Hudson Valley, N.Y. To support MASS's capacity to serve partners across the globe, donate online. As a 501(c)3 organization, donations to MASS are tax deductible,

MASS design principals and senior directors include: Sierra Bainbridge, Christian Benimana, Justin Brown, Kelly Doran, Jonathan Evans, Patricia Gruits, Chris Kroner, Sarah Mohland, Michael Murphy, Alan Ricks, Julie Rhoad, David Saladik, Jean Paul Sebuhayi, Amie Shao, Matt Smith, Katie Swenson, Peter Torrebiarte, and Regina Yang.