Today, The American Institute of Architects named the Boston- and Kigali, Rwanda–based MASS Design Group the winner of its 2022 Architecture Firm Award, the organization's highest honor for a design practice. Co-founded in 2008 by principals Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, AIA, MASS—which stands for Model of Architecture Serving Society—is an interdisciplinary nonprofit composed of more than 200 architects, landscape architects, engineers, furniture designers, writers, and filmmakers. The firm is also the winner of AIA's 2021 AIA Collaborative Achievement Award.
"On behalf of the entire MASS team, we are thrilled to accept the 2022 AIA Architecture Firm Award," Katie Swenson, MASS Design Group senior principal and winner of the 2021 AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture, tells ARCHITECT over email. "At MASS, we say that the first, largest, and longest-running design project is actually the design of our practice. This award recognizes first our people - the creativity, talent, and dedication of our tremendous team of over 250 architects, landscape architects, engineers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers, representing twenty countries around the world. And second, it recognizes our model, one that prioritizes fueling the visions of mission-aligned partners. We are grateful to the AIA for recognizing MASS’s contributions to the profession and built environment."
Since the firm's first project—the Butaro District Hospital in Butaro, Rwanda—the firm has provided more than $8 million worth of design services to projects around the world. Many of those are aimed at investing in communities, aimed at supporting and uplifting the people they serve. In addition to its design work, MASS also includes MASS.Made, a furniture design and fabrication team, and MASS.Build, a construction company with more than 2,000 people.
“I admire MASS's commitment to equate justice and beauty in our built environment. Too often we experience the opposite in the architecture profession, where beauty in design is privatized for a select population,” wrote Rahul Mehrotra, chair of urban planning and design at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in a letter supporting MASS’ nomination for the Architecture Firm Award. “MASS proves through each project, however, that this assumption is neither equitable nor empowering. In fact, their team displays that a mission-driven design process guided by communities themselves is both attainable and necessary.”
In 2017, ARCHITECT profiled MASS, learning more about the firm's first project and origin story. “We weren’t proposing new or radical ideas," Ricks told ARCHITECT. "We were just asking pretty basic questions to try and uncover different ways of doing things.”
As of 2021, the firm has more than 30 completed and in-progress projects worldwide. Recent projects include the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.; Butaro Oncology Support Centre in Butaro; Kigali Genocide Memorial—African Center for Peace in Kigali; GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti; and Pepper Place Market in Birmingham, Ala.
Since its inception, MASS has also proved a leader in health care–sensitive design, designing acclaimed projects such as the Family Health Center on Virginia in East McKinney, Texas; its specialty proved essential when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Murphy sat down with ARCHITECT during that critical moment to outline the role architecture played in fighting disease, explaining "there are spatial decisions that are being made today that will have long-term implications a year from now. If the spatial disciplines are at the table, we can help in the decision-making process as we respond in the coming weeks."
The firm also recently published a book on the design and life of hospitals, The Architecture of Health (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2021), in conjunction with an exhibition, Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics, curated and designed by MASS Design, at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, on display until Feb. 20, 2023.
"MASS has provided millions of dollars’ worth of design services for projects around the world," states AIA in a press release announcing the Architecture Firm Award honoree. "Always committed to ensuring its architecture addresses the world’s most pressing social issues, MASS continually demonstrates that a healthy built environment is crucial for supporting communities as they confront history, heal, and explore new possibilities for the future."
Votes for the 2022 AIA Firm Award winner are cast by the organization's current board of directors and current strategic council. Incoming board and strategic council members observe but do not participate in the voting. The jury for the 2022 AIA Firm Award comprised chair Lisa Matthiessen, FAIA, Amazon, Pasadena, Calif.; Brenna Costello, AIA, SmithGroup, Denver; Nathaniel Hudson, AIA, FormGrey Studio, Reno, Nev.; Candace Jackson, CJAM Consulting, New York; Renauld Mitchell, FAIA, Moody Nolan, Chicago;Wendy Ornelas, FAIA, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.; and Anand Sheth, AIA, Studio Anand Sheth, San Francisco.
To see more work from MASS Design Group, visit ARCHITECT's MASS firm page.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.