Giving Compass' Take:

• A nonprofit architecture firm called MASS Design Group focuses on building environments for underserved populations, putting the clients at the center of the design. 

• In what ways does equitable architecture serve communities in need? How can donors help expand or create more awareness of this field? 

• Read about social impact architecture in Native communities. 

Architectural projects are often a means to an end: they fulfill a need, provide shelter, create space. Beyond the blueprint, buildings have to speak, at least in part, to the people who use them; the job of the architect, then, is to communicate well.

MASS Design Group, a nonprofit architecture firm, specializes in building environments for underserved populations. The designers’ new book Justice Is Beauty showcases the range of their international projects that have been completed since the firm’s founding in 2008. The monograph includes a forward from global health advocate Chelsea Clinton, and explores the ways in which a more equitable society is achieved through thoughtful–and intentional–design.

“We live 90% of our lives in planned buildings, we need access to housing and healthcare and public space, [and] the built environment is inevitably intertwined with who has access to public goods and a built environment that serves their needs.”

An essential part of Mass Design Group’s approach is their integration of users’s needs into the design process. “I think we’re students of a long lineage of ideas around participation and community engagement,” says Alan Ricks, coauthor of the book and founding principal and chief design officer at MASS. “Working with organizations that are deeply committed to community-based care . . . this process of immersion is about being able to listen and hear what the users want out of the building and develop a shared vocabulary of what success looks like–and being able to use that to evaluate decision-making.”

While most architectural projects are dictated by a pre-existing goal or prevailing aesthetic a firm may have, MASS lets its partnerships guide the design work.

Read the full article about equitable design by Evan Nicole Brown at Fast Company.