The Board of Directors and the Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) today honored MASS Design Group with the 2022 AIA Architecture Firm Award.
The annual AIA Architecture Firm Award is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture practice. The award recognizes a firm that has consistently produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years.
Since its founding in 2008, MASS Design Group has worked tirelessly to ignite systemic change in the built environment through its mission-driven process. As a nonprofit interdisciplinary collective comprising more than 200 architects, engineers, researchers, and even filmmakers, MASS has provided millions of dollars’ worth of design services for projects around the world. Always committed to ensuring its architecture addresses the world’s most pressing social issues, MASS continually demonstrates that a healthy built environment is crucial for supporting communities as they confront history, heal, and explore new possibilities for the future.
MASS’ mission is embedded in its name, an acronym for Model of Architecture Serving Society. It was founded during the design and construction of Rwanda’s Butaro District Hospital. The small team has grown considerably since then, evolving to include MASS.Made, a furniture design and fabrication team, and MASS.Build, a construction company that employs more than 2,000 people. Throughout all of its work, MASS leverages the lessons it learned in Rwanda to shape a framework that allows the firm to inform policy development, emerging research, and projects that address inequality. MASS’ unusual model, which includes discrete governance and leadership groups, ensures the firm can adhere to its core mission of delivering architecture that serves society.
MASS’ work throughout the world is perhaps best characterized as a portfolio of beautiful and functional buildings that expand the idea of what conventional architecture is. In the U.S., projects such as The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and the traveling Gun Violence Memorial Project are physical manifestations of the firm’s design philosophy: Justice is Beauty. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors more than 4,400 historical victims of lynching in the American south was heralded as “the single greatest work of 21st century American architecture that will break your heart” by the Dallas Morning News.
In addition to the dignified environments it creates, MASS is deeply invested in the local communities it serves. When the firm began in Rwanda, there was an extremely limited community of professional architects in the country. Today, MASS’ Rwanda office comprises 80 design professionals, more than 72 percent of which are from Rwanda. MASS is now the largest architecture firm there, and its team continues to design and build critical infrastructure throughout the country. Among its members are the first female Rwandan landscape architect, the top graduate of the Kigali Institute of Science and Design, built in 2009, and a growing body of female architects and engineers.
Additionally, MASS has established two fellowship programs that seek to elevate the next generation of design leadership in Rwanda and the U.S.: the African Design Center and Space and Society Fellowship. These two opportunities provide pathways for young architects in search of a practice that will allow them to harness their design skills for the betterment of society. MASS also hopes that this vital training will imbue the profession with an enhanced culture of optimism.