Most Green Builder readers do not need to be convinced that design matters, that it influences both a building’s occupants and the wider surroundings. But how powerful is design, really? For example, can it play an integral role in promoting health and wellness? Does design have the ability to heal?
For Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, the architects who co-founded the MASS Design Group (MDG), the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Thoughtful design and construction, they argue, not only have the power to help heal a building’s occupants, but the broader community as well.
Since 2008 MDG has been putting this philosophy into practice in some of the poorest corners of the globe, including Rwanda, Haiti, and Uganda. The firm got its start collaborating with Partners in Health (PIH), the global health organization co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer. The initial charge: to help design and build a modern hospital in Butaro, a remote village in northern Rwanda.
PIH’s approach to healthcare is holistic, focusing not just on treating disease, but also the underlying social causes of illness, including systemic poverty. The aim is not only to cure patients, but also to build stronger, more resilient communities in which disease is less likely to take root.
To this challenge, MDG brings the tools of design. As Ricks explains, “Education, employment, environment: every design decision impacts at least one of these areas, and often all three.” In order to understand the impacts of their decisions in Butaro, the architects immersed themselves in the community for months, listening to stakeholders and learning about the community’s unique constraints and opportunities. This enabled them to make choices that had net positive impacts across all three areas.
Two critical stakeholder groups were patients and staff, the building’s occupants. To meet their needs, MDG incorporated numerous creative design features – including high-ceilings, exterior walkways, and expansive views – that maximize ventilation, minimize infection, and increase comfort, all without significant energy inputs.
The larger community was also a key stakeholder. In a region with chronic unemployment and a low-skilled workforce, the project was a catalyst for both job creation and education. Nearly 4,000 local workers were hired, many of whom learned a trade on the job. Use of primarily local materials further stimulated the local economy while helping to minimize overall environmental impact.
Butaro celebrated the opening of the new hospital in early 2011. Situated prominently on a hilltop, the beautiful building stands as a testament to the power of good design to positively impact people’s lives: physically, emotionally, economically, and ecologically. In contrast with the featureless, run-down buildings that pass for rural healthcare facilities across much of Africa, the Butaro hospital is a place of rejuvenation for the body and spirit, a point of pride for the entire community.
MDG has become a leader in a burgeoning global movement for sustainable, public interest design. Its growing staff is applying the lessons from Butaro to new school and hospital projects around the world, including back home in the United States.
Posted: 1/23/2013 12:49:08 PM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments