Michael Murphy on the Architecture of Health

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United States


Common Edge

It has been a surprisingly rapid ascent for MASS Design Group. Famously founded in 2008 by Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, a pair of Harvard Graduate School of Design students, the firm made an immediate name for itself with its first project, the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda. Built on a low budget and with local workers, the naturally ventilated clinic created both a new healthcare paradigm in Africa and a fresh business model for designers interested in a different way of practicing. (MASS stands for “Model of Architecture Serving Society.”) 

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Kigali, Rwanda, the nonprofit firm is now 200 strong and includes architects, planners, engineers, landscape architects, furniture designers, writers, and filmmakers. Last week was a big one for MASS. The American Institute of Architects named it the 2022 Firm of the Year. At the same time, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum debuted Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemicsan exhibition organized by the firm, and released a comprehensive accompanying book on the history of hospital design entitled The Architecture of Health, written by Murphy and MASS colleague Jeffrey Mansfield. Prior to the AIA announcement, but after the firm’s profile on 60 Minutes, I talked to Murphy about the book, the state of hospital design, and why healthcare is not part of the architectural canon. 

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