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MASS Design Group Head On Achieving Justice And Beauty In Our Cities

Justice is Beauty is a book by MASS Design Group.
Justice is Beauty is a book by MASS Design Group.
This article is more than 2 years old.

Have you ever thought about the relationship between beauty and justice?

MASS Design Group's new book argues that justice is beauty.

They're a nonprofit architecture firm focused on buildings for under-served populations. Their new book chronicles a decade of their work, and how they find dignity in design.

"Justice Is Beauty" is featured as a part of the Boston Book Festival. We talk with Michael Murphy, a co-founder and the executive director of MASS Design Group.

Interview Highlights

On fresh air and being spatially aware of our surroundings:

Michael Murphy: "I think [the fear of disease through the air] is terrifying, but it's also empowering. I mean, I think all of us in the world right now are going through a very similar spatial awakening. We're looking at the walls around us and realizing that these systems that are supposed to introduce fresh air are not working as effectively as they could. Could we open windows? Could we protect our families in more effective ways?"

"And that spatial awakening, I think is a really profound shift in the way we think about our world, because it gives us access to tools that we can change the buildings around us, change our ventilation systems, and change the way we understand air as a contaminating agent or a healing agent. And that's not just about the coronavirus. You start to think about air being contaminated with off gassing or emissions or smoke like we saw with the fires in California... These are all issues related to our ability to to be around fresh air."

On how the pandemic has further revealed injustices within the built environment:

"These epidemics, these challenges really stress our systems and they reveal the cracks in those systems. So we often say buildings heal or hurt. And here's an example of where we're seeing the built environment around this really hurt our public. The people most affected by the coronavirus — of course, we're all affected by the coronavirus — but those most disproportionately affected are communities of color. But especially folks living in conditions like nursing homes, senior housing, incarcerated individuals, those within structures where they are most disenfranchised and unable to control the environment around them effectively"

"And this is a real concern that we should have, not just in addressing the kind of structural injustices in our community and advocating for those who are having trouble advocating for themselves in these conditions, but also thinking about the built environment that is encasing them, that they're suffering within. Can we redesign senior housing to breathe better, to be more effective, to be healing? ...All of these questions are interrelated with the buildings around us. And so designing spaces that are healing is about thinking about our physiological health, our sociological health, and also our environmental health."

On finding beauty in buildings:

"There's this misunderstanding, I believe, in the way we evaluate buildings around us. We often talk about buildings as beautiful or sometimes ugly. A lot of times we talk about them as ugly. Or we talk about them as effective systems, good housing or poor housing."

"And we don't often talk about those things as interrelated, and that the choice between one or the others we really found is a false choice. All buildings affect our social, our environmental, and our political systems. The question is whether we really acknowledge that or not and then are designing the systems to serve the public that they're in most effectively. And if we do so, this creates beauty, not just the form that we see. But the beauty is the perfect or the successful resolution of all of these systems coming together and serving the public in its most effective form."

Zoë Mitchell Producer and Studio Director
Zoë Mitchell was a Radio Boston producer and studio director.


Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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