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

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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.

Through anecdotes and testimonials from others involved (including everyone from the hospital gardener to Rwanda’s Minister for Health), Ricks demonstrates that no matter what the context, architecture can and should find opportunities in the local environment that bring not only health benefits but also economic benefits, jobs and even dignity.

Pre-primary School / Asa studio

Courtesy of

Architects: Asa studio
Main Designers: Tomà Berlanda, Nerea Amòros Elorduy
Year: 2013
Photographs: Courtesy of Asa studio

Support GA Collaborative’s Earthbag Projects in Rwanda: Building Community Through Creative Construction

Following the success of their first Masoro Village Project house, the non-profit design group GA Collaborative (GAC) has released a video and crowdfunding campaign for their latest prototype in . Like the previous GAC project, the first of its kind in , it too will be built of earthbags, providing the crew further experience with a low-cost and durable construction technique.

This building, a two-story structure for shared kitchen and toilet facilities, will be constructed this summer by the newly-formed builders’ cooperative Association Icyerekezo (“New Vision”). Donations to the project will help towards additional material tests, equipment rentals, wages for fifty workers and four student interns ($2.00/day/person), site infrastructure, and travel and temporary accommodation for one GAC member. For even more incentive to donate, the designers have paired up with StitchWorks, who are offering a series of bold textiles inspired by African fabric designs to donors.

Learn more in the video above, and support the Masoro Project here (more images after the break).

Women’s Opportunity Center / Sharon Davis Design

© Elizabeth Felicella

Architects: Sharon Davis Design
Location: Kayonza,
Project Manager: Bruce Engel
Area: 2200.0 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Elizabeth Felicella

Masoro Village Project / GA Collaborative

The only power tool used on site was a battery-powered hand drill, except for a diesel-powered generator used for three days for welding the steel roofing. Future Masoro houses will use timber instead of steel as an additional cost-saving measure. Image © Yutaka Sho

The construction of a small single-family home twenty kilometers north of Kigali, Rwanda is now complete. The building is demure: three small bedrooms, a modest living room, and a space for cooking. Poor material availability and financial limitations meant that practicality was its primary design muse. The house is the prototype for a series of homes that the designers, GA Collaborative, will build in Masoro for members of the women’s cooperative l’Association Dushyigikirane. With the project’s uncommon building method—, the first of its kind in Rwanda— intends to empower its clients with knowledge of an inexpensive and speedy construction technique that requires little training and no prior construction experience. 

Women’s Opportunity Center in Rwanda / Sharon Davis Design

The Women’s Opportunity Center © Sharon Davis Design

Women for Women International (WfWI) is a global NGO that has supported the construction of the Women’s Opportunity Center, to be opened shortly, in .  The Center, design by Sharon Davis Design, is an environmentally friendly, multi-use facility that will become a support mechanism for the education of women and the support and advancement of the community in the region.   The WOC is an element of WfWI’s mission to address poverty and the effects of genocide through education and self-empowerment.  The facility is part community gathering space, part education center where women can attain job training and learn new skills, and use services to find employment or start their own businesses.

Join us after the break for more on this project.

Umubano Primary School / MASS Design Group


Architects: MASS Design Group
Location: Kigali,
Architect In Charge: MASS Design Group
Design Team: Michael Murphy, Alan Ricks, Sierra Bainbridge, Ebberly Strathairn, Branden Collins, Andrew Brose, Marika Shioiri-Clark, Ryan Leidner, Eric Mutabazi
Area: 900 sqm
Year: 2010
Photographs: Iwan Baan

Butaro Doctors’ Housing / MASS Design Group


Architects: MASS Design Group
Location: ButaroRwanda
Architect In Charge:
Area: 500 sqm
Year: 2012
Photographs: Iwan Baan

SEEDoc: Nyanza Maternity Hospital / MASS Design Group

Since June, we’ve been reporting on the Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design)‘s, SEEDocs, a series of mini-documentaries that highlight the stories of award-winning public interest design projects. As each mini-doc has been an excellent, inspiring exploration of the challenges and benefits of community-oriented design, we are pleased (and not a little sad!) to announce that the final seed-doc has just been released.

This month’s mini-doc, probably the series’ best, focuses on the Nyanza Maternity , designed by . MASS of course garnered much attention for their Butaro , also in Rwanda (for an interesting inside-look at the construction of Butaro, read this excellent article by MASS co-founder Marika Shiori-Clark). Should this hospital be funded and realized, it will no doubt make more headlines for the innovative public-interest design firm.

Read more about MASS Design Group’s lastest project in Rwanda, after the break…

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

by MASS Design Group. Image © .

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…

Kimisagara Football for Hope Centre / AFO with Architecture for Humanity

© Killian Doherty

Architects: Architectural Field Office with Architecture for Humanity
Location: Kimisagara, Kigali, Rwanda
Project Year: 2009
Project Area: 200.0 sqm
Photographs: Killian Doherty

Bumbogo Project / Guillaume Sardin

Courtesy of Guillaume Sardin

Africa is currently building its urban culture, in a global context of clusterized cities, of insularized space. Urbanism shouldn’t be just about numbers. Although Africa is currently strongly lacking infrastructure, its needs cannot always be quantified. Urbanism should reflect culture, history and create a sense of belonging. Guillaume Sardin‘s Bumbogo Project in , , which won second place in a competition, will be a manifest, a pragmatic utopia. By using the meaning of and as a matrix, this project generates an ultra site-specific master plan setting an example of fair urbanism. More images and architects’ description after the break.

In Progress: Women’s Opportunity Center / Sharon Davis Design


Sharon Davis Design was recently awarded 2nd place among all categories of Future Projects at the World Architectural Festival; in their subcategory, Future Projects: Education, they placed first. The New York City design firm competed against over 70 shortlisted projects to achieve this international distinction for their Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, . Women for Women International, a Washington, DC based non-profit which seeks to empower female survivors of war and genocide commissioned the firm to build an educational campus in rural in late 2008. Construction on the two-acre site began this summer. More images and project description after the break.

Butaro Hospital / MASS Design Group

© Iwan Baan


Architects: MASS Design Group
Location: Burera District, Rwanda
Client: Rwandan Ministry of Health; Partners In Health / Inshuti Mu Buzima
Sewage Plant Engineering: EcoProtection
Landscape Design: Sierra Bainbridge and Maura Rockcastle
Design Team: Michael Murphy, Alan Ricks, Sierra Bainbridge, Marika Clark, Ryan Leidner, Garret Gantner, Cody Birkey, Ebbe Strathairn, Maura Rockcastle, Dave Saladik, Alda Ly, Robert Harris, Commode Dushimimana, Nicolas Rutikanga
Structural Engineering: ICON
Project Year: 2011
Project Area: 6,040 sqm
Photographs: Iwan Baan, MASS Design Group

Video: Football for Hope

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Architecture for Humanity’s Kimisagra Football for Hope Center in , has broken ground. This video by Killian Doherty and music by Sophie Nzayisenga features the site location, renderings, and most importantly the communities excitement for the new center.

Pediatric Clinic / 4of7 Architecture

4of7 Architecture‘s competition proposal for a in East Africa is a modular configuration that will expand to accommodate more people when necessary.   The proposal was an entry for the “Design for the Children“ competition which asks designers from around the world to develop a sustainable, culturally responsive, pediatric clinic model for Rwanda.  This modular configuration is a “spatial solution” that will connect a major network of health care.

More about the project and more images after the break.

Children’s Hospital Prototype / Visiondivision

Visiondivision, an international young practice, shared with us their competition entry for a children’s hospital prototype for .  The competition, entitled “Design for the Children”, asks architects and designers to develop a sustainable, culturally responsive, model for East Africa.

More images and further project description after the break.