Social Innovation Fellow spotlight: Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Social Innovation Fellow Michael Murphy is looking at ways design can help address social issues. His company MASS Design takes a holistic approach to building environments that are innovative, involve local investments and are well-designed. 

Illustration of good building airflowAs an example, Murphy discussed a recent hospital project in northern Rwanda. Knowing that many hospitals unwittingly spread infection to the very patients they're trying to heal, the team wondered how they could design a space that would help reduce rather than increase infection rates. One solution was to design the hospital with no hallways, where people (and germs) tend to congregate. They also took advantage of Rwanda's great airflow to create a design using natural ventilation. 

The team took on another challenge: how to isolate and highlight the beauty of the local stone used to build the hospital as a way to showcase the resources of the community? They envisioned no visible mortar or cement, just the stone. By the time the local craftsman had built the wall, they had created a beautiful structure of which they were extremely proud. This told the team that they can affect the community in many significant ways.

Murphy asked the crowd: What happens if we don't think about issues of safety and design? "It's not the earthquake that killed people in Haiti," he cautioned,"it's the buildings that fell on people." What if we gave jobs to only the community around us? What economies could we create? Buildings that are currently making us sicker could actually make us better. Of his company's work, Murphy said, "These are the kinds of building that can make us heal."

Image: Kris Krug (photo) and Perrin Ireland, Alphachimp Studio (illustration)

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