2021 Collaborative Achievement Award Recipient
The Collaborative Achievement Award recognizes the excellence that results when architects work with those from outside the profession to improve the spaces where people live and work.
In just one decade, Boston-based MASS Design Group has ignited systemic change in 23 countries around the world through its tested, mission-driven processes. An interdisciplinary collective comprising 120 architects, landscape architects, engineers, furniture designers, writers, and filmmakers, this 501(c)(3) nonprofit is deeply committed to equitable, community-driven design and ensuring that architecture addresses the social issues facing the world. Since its founding, MASS has donated more than $8 million in design services and unlocked more than $80 million in capital project investment through savvy philanthropic outreach.
“In every issue area, geography, and sector, MASS shows us how architecture—the built environment—has the capacity to catalyze transformative change,” wrote Robert B. Winstead, AIA, in a letter supporting MASS’ nomination for the Collaborative Achievement Award. “They do so by bringing together nonprofit leaders, activists, community members, and other design practitioners to develop the highest-quality, mission-driven design solutions.”
With its mission embedded in its name—MASS is an acronym for Model of Architecture Serving Society—the company was founded on the notion that buildings hold the power to heal. The firm’s early work explored the ways in which architecture can improve health and well-being, and projects in Rwanda and Haiti delivered dignified buildings that strengthen the healing services its partners in those countries provide. The practices learned in those early projects established the framework that allows MASS to inform policy development, emerging research, and projects that address inequality. With 30 projects built or under construction around the world, including the lauded National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, each new effort is characterized by MASS’ dedication to exploring the deep connections between human and ecological health.
From its earliest days, MASS has dealt closely with infectious diseases, experience that has proved invaluable during the global COVID-19 pandemic. When social distancing measures were enacted across most of the country in March last year, MASS quickly turned to its compilation of best practices for spatial strategies that help slow contagion and assisted Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program in designing temporary treatment facilities in the city. Guided by MASS’ collaborative process, the combination of design, medical, nonprofit, and government forces allowed the program to begin treating patients within one week of initial planning.
“In addition to their project accompaniment and design leadership, MASS invests in narrative change and cross-sector advocacy work that amplifies our collective impact,” wrote Alex Frank, project director of the Restoring Promise Initiative for Vera Institute of Justice, in a letter supporting MASS’ nomination. “They continue to share insights through conference presentations, forums, and published research—all of which help expand the reach of who is involved with this movement. This scope of their work has been especially significant as our world navigates new emergencies presented by COVID-19.”
With its unique understanding of disease mitigation, MASS has been a critical partner on the front lines of the pandemic response. Its successful infection-control strategies were published in its first COVID-19 resource, Designing Spaces for Infection Control, which was downloaded nearly 17,000 times and featured in 40 media outlets. Nine additional resources have followed, among them guidelines for reconfiguring hospital spaces quickly to help protect health care workers, guidelines for limiting contagion in makeshift facilities, and priorities for prisons and other detention centers, where overcrowding and poor ventilation make social distancing nigh impossible.
An innovative leader that has already served more than 500,000 people through its work, MASS has unlocked architecture’s capacity to serve the greater good and build a more equitable and just society. MASS’ eagerness to collaborate produces critical infrastructure and buildings that focus on the dignity and well-being of those they serve.
“There is a well-known mantra in health care improvement that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. This raises the question, how do we best take advantage of the opportunity to use design intentionally to create spaces that heal?” asked Neel Shah, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “One thing is clear: to build healing environments, we will need greater, more deliberate collaboration between clinicians and architects. This understanding is clearly translated through MASS’ design process and mission-driven approach.”