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Michael Murphy has said he is stepping down as president and CEO of the MASS Design Group, the non-profit firm he founded in 2008 with Alan Ricks, Marika Shioiri Clark, and Alda Ly. He plans to open his own design studio, which will address ways the ownership of buildings can be extended to disadvantaged groups. Murphy, 42, has also accepted an endowed chair at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he teaches architecture studios (this year’s subject is memorials). He will remain on MASS’s board.

MASS, which stands for Model of Architecture Serving Society, is best known for its hospitals in Africa, clinics in Haiti, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice—a tribute to victims of lynchingsin Montgomery, Alabama. This year MASS received the American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Firm Award, a remarkable achievement for a firm only 14 years old. MASS will now be run by senior principals and managing directors Christian Benimana (in the Kilgali, Rwanda office) and Patricia Gruits (in Boston), and Ricks, now its chief Design Officer. Murphy’s titles of president and CEO will go unfilled.    

MASS’s current projects include a new welcome center for the historic Africatown community in Mobile, Alabama; a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on the Boston Common; an entrepreneurship hub in Kigali; and a domestic violence shelter in Bozeman, Montana. Altogether MASS now has some 60 projects in the works in Rwanda, Angola, Poland, South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Bangladesh, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, Togo and the U.S.

Founded in Boston, the firm also has a thriving office in Kigali staffed largely by Rwandans, including some of the first women architects, landscape architects and engineers in that country. The firm has spawned MASS.Made, a furniture design and fabrication company, and MASS.Build, a construction firm that raises buildings and its workers’ skills.


The African Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda (2021).Photo © Iwan Baan

Murphy, phoning from Atlanta, says he will be launching a new venture that will focus on “sharing the financial ownership of our built environment more equitably” which will entail looking for “new creative ways to finance cultural and institutional projects.” But, he says, “You can’t just do it through philanthropy. You’ll need investors.” That, he says, is why he had to leave the non-profit MASS. But, he says of the new venture, “It’s a continuation of the same ethos and the same ideas as MASS.”