At MASS Design Group, Jeffrey Mansfield has worked on an impressive range of projects, including the Gallaudet University Sixth Street competition and a master plan for the Rwandan Institute of Conservation Agriculture. But it was a recent research project on hospital design, investigating how evolutions in medicine and healthcare practices have shaped how hospitals look and function, that particularly inspired him.
Mansfield was born profoundly deaf. He attended the Learning Center for the Deaf outside of Boston for his primary and secondary school education, always attuned to the meanings encoded in his physical and natural environments. As an undergraduate at Princeton in the mid-aughts, he took a seminar with Sarah Whiting, Assoc. AIA (now the dean of Rice University’s school of architecture), on the emergence of Chicago as a modern city, and began to think that his interest in the built environment could lead to a career as an architect.
In 2015, while researching hospital designs at MASS, Mansfield noticed similarities between hospitals and deaf schools, and he wanted to learn more about the institutional design typologies he saw. “I grew interested in exploring how the architecture of these schools reflected or contributed to evolving attitudes towards deafness in our society, and more generally towards what constitutes ‘normal,’ ” Mansfield says.
Last year, he won a grant from the Graham Foundation for his project, “The Architecture of Deafness: Two-Hundred Years of the Deaf School as an Architectural Type in the United States, 1817–2017,” which will culminate in an atlas and exhibition. “Jeff has challenged me to think about utilizing all of our senses to create spaces that shape behavior and advance a narrative of inclusivity, which we need now more than ever,” Michael Murphy, co-founder of MASS Design Group, says.
Mansfield is particularly interested in the tension between deaf schools as exclusive, stigmatizing spaces and as empowering, subversive spaces. “You might say that through architecture, I began to understand my own deafness in a broader cultural context,” Mansfield says “and started to see my own identity as a culturally deaf person as a form of cultural resistance.”
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