"Design is never neutral, it either helps or hurts" says Andrew Brose, an architect with MASS Design Group, a group that is working in Rwanda and around the world to make architecture "meaningful". Through their design of Rwandan schools and hospitals, MASS has shown that architecture is not about building the biggest, shiniest, most expensive building, but about building healthy, elegant, and overall positive environments for communities to take pride in.
Alan Ricks, architect and Chief Operating Officer of MASS, gave a talk for the internationally acclaimed lecture series 'TED' in New York City on Friday, promoting his group's idea of "designing for dignity".The lecture series, TEDCities2.0, focused on all things urban: city planning, architecture, homes, and citizenship.
Locally organized TEDxgroups all over the world, including Kigali'sTEDxNyarugenge affiliate, streamed the talk, which featured video clips of workers at the Butaro site, as well commentary from Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho.Screened on Saturday evening to a packed roof at The Office, a coworking space in Kiyovu, attendees were proud to see Rwanda showcased on such a prestigious, international stage.
In his talk, Ricks described how he and current MASS CEO Michael Murphy co-founded the design group in 2006 after hearing Paul Farmer, founder of the revolutionary global health organization Partners in Health, lecture on the dangers of poor hospital design. Around the world, staggering numbers of patients become sicker in hospitals due to poor ventilation, over crowding, and unsanitary conditions. After much research, Ricks and Murphy came to Rwanda with Partners in Health and got to work designing and building Butaro Hospital in Burera district, determined to answer the question: "Can design actually heal?" with a resounding yes.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, MASS has now designed and built a beautiful and healing facility that now serves over 21,000 patients a year. With design features like cross-ventilating roofs, nature views for all patients, open-air hallways, and spacious wards, the hospital is literally designed to help patients heal as quickly as possible. In addition, it is beautiful.
Ricks and his colleagues believe beauty can instill apowerful sense of dignity and equality amongst people: "we have to go beyond the notion that some deserve the full benefits of architecture, and others, only the bare minimum."
MASShas also built housing for doctors in Butaro, constructing calming and comfortable homes designed to keep world-class physicians in a place they might not otherwise wish to live.
Currently in the works is the Butaro Ambulatory Cancer Center, which, when completed, will be the first ever comprehensive cancer center in rural East Africa. MASS has also built a school in Kigali, and has big plans to continue their work all around the region and the continent.
In all their designs, MASS seeks new and innovative ways to use local materials and resources and engage the local community. "This [Butaro] hospital was for the people," says Binagwaho "and the fact that they sweat to make it, they own it far more than if we were just giving them a key."
"We're not bringing things to give you," explains MASS Associate Christian Benimana, "we have things to trade. We want the skills you have, we want the dreams you have, we want the passion you have."
Rwanda is slowly realizing the importance and need for architecture and design. Kigali Institute of Technology's new architecture program, which recently graduated the first ever class of Rwandan-trained architects, is a powerful sign of that. AmelieNtagulirwa, valedictorian of the program, received a Global Health Corps fellowship to work with MASS for the year, and has caught the 'design for good' bug.
"There are really cool people at MASS, lots of different perspectives, but we all have the same idea of improving the community. It's not just about architecture, it's about improving people's lives," says Ntigulirwa, "Everyone deserves beauty."