The spaces we dwell within can affect our well-being 

Quick notes

-Building designs can ergonomically impact treatment and outcome of patients in hospitals 

-Providing aesthetically pleasing housing for doctors in poorer communities correlates with higher caliber care

-Designs can promote inclusivity and healing in birthing centers 

-Thoughtful design concepts have the power to induce the healing of deep emotional wounds

Science tells us that our environment has an impact on our emotional and social well-being. Clean spaces equate clear thought and clutter leads to chaos in the mind. Color can elicit hunger or relaxation. It’s no surprise that developed areas of society place a high value on the appearance of community spaces, including hospitals.

What about underdeveloped populations? Can placing more emphasis on the appearance of a space lead to better medical outcomes in places such as rural Rwanda?

Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, both Harvard students of architecture, thought so and it prompted them to construct MASS design group in 2007. Their designs utilized local materials and laborers, giving a boost to many facets of the rural community in Rwanda. 

Architecture for safer hospital conditions

Murphy and Ricks utilized open-air walkways to decrease airborne infectious disease risks in the Butaro hospital they designed in Rwanda. MASS design group gave detailed thought to the particular needs of the populations they seek to serve.

Understanding the economic value is one thing, but making it pleasing to look at adds exponential value in terms of attracting capable care teams. Contractors utilized volcanic rock, an ample and pervasive material found scattered throughout Rwandan farmland. Though labor-intensive, it’s cost-effective and easily translated to other rural locations standing to benefit from an update in architecture. 

“It’s a true community effort that benefits those in treatment and the local economy.” 

Evidence of their careful consideration can be appreciated in the Haitian cholera center. Seeing the obvious issues with water contamination, they equipped the site with its own wastewater treatment plant.

Aside from practical considerations, they utilized Haitian craftsmen for furnishings and provided bright and airy grounds, complete with lush gardens. It’s a true community effort that benefits those in treatment and the local economy. 

MASS paid homage to the birthing culture in Malawi as well. They provided a replicable layout for a maternity center, laid out in four-bed units situated around shared courtyards. The simple, community structure is relatable for Malawi women and reminiscent of the architecture often seen in their home villages.

With space for extended family and friends to relax under the cool shade and building materials aimed to combat Malawi’s fluctuating temperatures, their selective architecture is a safe and comfortable birthing environment.


Using design to attract higher-quality caregivers

A vital part of any hospital or clinic is quality professionals, equipped with the skills and understanding of their particular community’s needs. Murphy and Ricks understood the draw of a great design for physician living quarters and they capitalized on the aesthetically-pleasing aspects of local materials. 

The interior designs are sleek and pleasing to the eye. Far from the bare minimum, they provide comfortable and relaxing homes for physicians to rest after long workdays. Like the cost-effective volcanic rock in the hospital build, MASS used compressed, stabilized earth-block walls for the construction of the living quarters.

To retain the local emphasis of their project, a local artisan’s guild was formed and tasked with designing and building the furnishings for the homes. 

Healing emotional wounds through architecture

In Montgomery, Alabama, MASS designed a monument to victims of lynching. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice rests on six acres overlooking the Alabama State Capitol. Within the monument, 801 columns suspend from the ceiling. Each contains the names and respective American counties where the individuals were tragically lynched.

Some victims are listed as “unknown,” a solemn reminder of the violence they suffered. 

Montgomery is historically significant for the rise of civil rights and special consideration has been given to retain the attention for the cause of equal rights and social justice. This memorial is an essential stop on the South’s Civil Rights Trail as it offers acknowledgment of those affected by such a malicious period of American history and healing for all. 

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