MASS Design Lab

SUMMARY: MASS Design Lab is a research project of MASS Design Group, exploring the integration of public health, economic development, environmental performance and education into a comprehensive formalized architectural strategy through a rigorous assessment process and immersive community component.

PROBLEM SPACE: Design and public health operate in near-isolation and yet the consequences of both are inextricably linked. In 2010, over 250,000 people in Haiti were killed when one earthquake leveled buildings and devastated infrastructure. Three years later, Port-au-Prince remains vulnerable to disease as a result of a failed built environment. In Rwanda, the built environment contributes to high infant mortality rates and hospitals that spread disease. This toll is not unique to the developing world. The American Medical Association estimates that 80,000 people die annually due to hospital acquired infections.

Integrating health considerations with building design is critical to resolving these devastating societal issues, but the research and social capital required is fiscally unachievable using current modes of practice. Buildings in the developing world are largely designed in isolation from the communities they serve. Often, local construction processes and materials are ignored and replaced by building systems with little cultural or economic relevance, perpetuating a systematic reliance on aid. MDLab develops a better built environment by implementing a practice based on investment in anticipatory social capacity that performs under crisis and change.

SOLUTION: Since 2008, MASS has developed significant immersive expertise through the design and construction of buildings, products, and policy in 7 countries. MASS has realized that architectural design in isolation cannot foster systematic improvement without an investment in research and training. MDLab embodies a practice that, through the development and dissemination of knowledge, leverages the potential of design to enable social innovation to respond to today’s greatest challenges.

To do this, MDLab has identified four initiatives to be pursued during a three-year development phase:
1) Quantitative building assessment in the context of health, environment, and economy;
2) Development of policy initiatives for improved guidelines for safer buildings that exhibit better performance;
3) Use of local materials and innovative building technologies;
4) Dissemination of new knowledge through advocacy and education.

Building on knowledge gained through systematic research, MDLab conducts training programs to build internal capacity within MASS as well as expand the possibility of economic and social development through field workshops to engage communities and foster academic partnerships globally. Initially, research/training centers will be established in Rwanda and Haiti to begin prototyping processes for global application. For example, in Butaro, Rwanda a rural housing initiative has been launched as a communal effort, serving immediate needs and fostering growth through skill building in safe construction practices. This housing initiative creates means for collaborative exchange between local workers, students from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and universities worldwide. The research – training – design – construction workflow will link social and health outcomes with design, and generate a replicable feedback loop for global change. Additionally, the research conducted at the Butaro-based building lab will serve as small-scale tests for building technologies that can be translated to large-scale infrastructural buildings throughout Africa.

CONTACT PERSON: [email protected]