MASS Design Group at NBM

John Hill
31. March 2021
A detail of the Lo-Fab Pavilion on display in the atrium of the National Building Museum. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)

Following a sixteen-month closure due to restoration work and the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Building Museum in Washington, DC is reopening with two exhibitions on Boston's MASS Design Group: Justice Is Beauty and Gun Violence Memorial Project.

Since it was founded in 2008 by students from Harvard GSD, MASS Design Group has grown to more than 140 architects, landscape architects, researchers, and other professionals in its offices in Boston and Kigali, Rwanda. It was in Rwanda where the firm, technically a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, first made its mark, completing the Butaro Hospital in 2011. A "patient-centric design" resulted in a complex of buildings with ample daylight and fresh air and well integrated outdoor spaces. That early success led to additional projects in the area (housing for doctors, an oncology support center, a cancer treatment center, and the University of Global Health Equity) as well as other medical facilities elsewhere in Africa and other parts of the world, such as Haiti. No wonder MASS stands for "A Model of Architecture Serving Society."

MASS Design Group has not limited itself to the typology of health care, though. The project that has brought them the most exposure, at least in the United States, is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which opened to the public in April 2018. Memorializing the more than 4,000 victims of lynchings in the American South, the memorial has been called "the single greatest work of American architecture of the 21st century, and the most successful memorial design since the 1982 debut of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C." A similar approach of design being used to remember and to heal informs MASS Design Group's Gun Violence Memorial Project, which makes up half of their contribution to the newly reopened National Building Museum.

Below is a short tour through MASS Design Group's two exhibitions opening soon at NBM.

Justice Is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group and Gun Violence Memorial Project are on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC from April 9, 2021 to September 25, 2022.
Here is another view of the Lo-Fab Pavilion that was created by a design partnership between MASS and students and faculty at Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design's Center for Design Research; it was originally displayed at the 2015 Boston Design Biennial. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
The exhibition, with an abundance of models, videos, material samples, sketches, diagrams, and photographs, is structured into five themes that reflect the firm’s socially conscious work: Engaging, Healing, Fostering, Conserving, and Marking. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
The area devoted to the GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Center in Haiti features a prototype of the perforated metal screens that wrap the building; its placement at a window in NBM conveys the effectiveness of the design in shading the interior of the actual building. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
A close-up of the model of the GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Center. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
Another model for another project in Haiti, the GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital.  (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
First displayed at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Gun Violence Memorial Project consists of four "houses," each with 700 "bricks" representing the number of Americans killed by guns every week. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
The brick-like compartments are filled with photographs, mementos, and other artifacts donated by immediate family members of loved ones taken by gun violence. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
MASS Design Group hopes "to ultimately create a permanent, national memorial that honors the lives and narratives of victims of gun violence." The project is a partnership between MASS, artist Hank Willis Thomas, and gun violence prevention organizations Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)
Free to the public, the Gun Violence Memorial Project exhibition also includes Moments That Survive, which NBM describes as "a digital storytelling campaign that allows Americans directly affected by gun violence to share their stories." (Photo: National Building Museum/Elman Studio)

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