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TED Talk: How MASS Design Group Gave the Word "Architecture" a Meaning in Rwanda

In one of the eight talks that make up the TED Prize-winning City2.0, MASS Design Group Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Alan Ricks explains how MASS designed and built the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, in 2008 when "there wasn't even a word for 'architect'" in Kinyarwanda, the national language. Now thanks in part to their work, and the commitment of the many MASS Design Fellows in the area, Rwanda has a more formalized market for architectural services and even a new architecture program at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

How to Balance Local Traditions and New Solutions in Public-Interest Design

Butaro Hospital by MASS Design Group. Image © Iwan Baan.
Butaro Hospital by MASS Design Group. Image © Iwan Baan.

Marika Shioiri-Clark is an architect who uses design to empower global change and battle inequality. While attending Harvard for her Masters in Architecture, she co-founded the non-profit MASS Design Group and began working on what would become the the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. In this article, which originally appeared on GOOD as "Building a Rwandan Wall", she explains the process by which the hospital was built and defends claims that the project, led by a group of Western architects, was somehow colonialist in nature. 

As she puts it: "In a place like Rwanda, it’s not neo-colonialist to work on high-quality design projects as long as you’re deeply and authentically engaged with the community. In today’s world, it’s more neo-colonialist to assume that African people don't want well-designed buildings and spaces."

Read about Ms. Shiori-Clark's experiences, and the delicate balance that must be struck between local knowledge and innovative techniques, after the break...