Feb. 5, 2019

How architecture transforms communities and promotes healing

Sierra Bainbridge, inspiring principal of MASS Design Group, opens Design Matters Lecture Series
Sierra Bainbridge, speaker at the University of Calgary's Design Matters Lecture Series, addresses an audience at the New Central Library.

Sierra Bainbridge, speaker at the Design Matters Lecture Series, addresses an audience.

Alexander Mayhew, Faculty of Environmental Design

Architecture can heal, or it can hurt. This is the bold statement used by Sierra Bainbridge to begin her Design Matters talk.

On Jan. 16, the Faculty of Environmental Design welcomed Bainbridge, senior principal from MASS Design Group, to open the 2019 Design Matters lectures. The event was held in Calgary's recently completed central library, designed by Norwegian firm Snohetta — a perfect setting for a lecture about how architecture can transform cities and communities.

EVDS professor Catherine Hamel describes Sierra as “a catalyst to inspire designers to creatively and practically search for the application of MASS’ attitude towards design in our own context — which differs from many of their projects.” 

Titled Justice is Beauty, Sierra's lecture set a framework for projects between 2008 and 2018 that reveals real questions behind what architecture can do. This theme consistently came up addressing: 

  • Can architecture heal? 
  • Can architecture prevent [an epidemic]?
  • Can architecture protect [endangered species]?
  • Can architecture enable?

In responding to these questions: a resounding yes — if healing is done intentionally. Although MASS is based in Boston, much of their work is handled from a satellite office in Rwanda to realize projects in remote places like Butaro, Port-au-Prince and Ilima. Projects in these developing areas are focused on the people who are living there and asking questions to better understand who they are and how they can be better served. 

What are their needs and what can architecture do to help fulfill these needs?

A key component of success in their work is the people, the local craftsmen, artisans and the labour force, who know the local building materials and ways of construction. New leaders are established in the communities that are inspired and enabled to facilitate change – even when the design team is no longer on the site.

MASS is shifting the mindsets of designers with a new paradigm that it's not about the architecture — it's about “LoFab”: people building the architecture and how projects can transform lives. LoFab helps to raise awareness and promote locally sourced and locally fabricated architecture. 

MArch student Mojdeh Kamali describes her viewpoint of LoFab as “social cohesion in any given location. It brings hope, local talents, economy, and communities together for a united goal. The goal to create cities and lives based on humanity.”

Sierra leaves the notion at the end of her presentation that in Canada we don't have to travel thousands of miles to do participatory design and locally-fabricated projects. Within our own country there are tons of small communities and Indigenous groups who are seeking guidance and support to rebuild their communities — people who are looking to be inspired and to retrace their lineage and traditional ways of making and building within this modern contemporary landscape. 

EXP is a major sponsor of the Design Matters Lecture Series. 

Alexander Mayhew is a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Design.