Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa, life partners and principals at Los Angeles- and Fort Lauderdale-based architecture and design practice Brooks + Scarpa, have been named as the 2022 recipients of the prestigious AIA Gold Medal, which is conferred annually to an individual or pair whose “significant body of work has had a lasting influence on theory and practice of architecture.” Also announced was the 2022 AIA Architecture Firm Award, which goes to Boston’s MASS Design Group, a nonprofit interdisciplinary collective that’s stated mission is to “research, build, and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity.” In addition to Boston, MASS Design Group (the acronym stands for (which stands for Model of Architecture Serving Society) also maintains offices in Montana, New York’s Hudson Valley, Santa Fe, and a large operation in Kigali, Rwanda. While the recognition is well-deserved, MASS Design Group is not an architecture/design “firm” in the traditional sense.
Brooks and Scarpa and MASS Design Group share the common trait of placing a practice-guiding emphasis on equity, health, and social good, and their respective realized works, whether an affordable housing project for seniors in Miami Beach or a community healthcare clinic in North Texas that doesn’t feel like a healthcare clinic, reflect that. (Brooks + Scarpa also won the 2010 Architecture Firm Award).
Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa, both native Floridians who met while studying architecture at the University of Florida in Gainesville and married in 1987, relocated from the Sunshine State to Southern California in the late 1980s. In 1991, Scarpa co-founded the Santa Monica-based Pugh + Scarpa with Welsh-born architect Gwynne Pugh. At the time, Brooks, freshly out of graduate school at SCI-Arc, joined the nonprofit affordable housing developer Los Angeles Community Design Center, where she “leveraged policy and design to tackle issues surrounding housing and homelessness,” per the AIA.
In 1999, Brooks joined her husband and Pugh as a third principal at Pugh + Scarpa. In 2011, Pugh departed the 20-year-old firm, which at that point had grown significantly and been heavily awarded by the AIA for projects like the Colorado Court in Santa Monica, which was the country’s first multifamily housing project to be LEED Gold-certified. Following Pugh’s exit, the firm was renamed Brooks + Scarpa. Three years later, it was bestowed with the 2014 National Design Award in Architecture by Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
As noted by the AIA in its announcement, Brooks and Scarpa’s pursuit of “personal and professional aspirations” including academia, volunteering, mentoring, and collaborative practice have “positioned them in an uncharted realm for most practicing architects.” In addition to their work with their namesake firm, the pair have established organizations such as nonprofit development firm Livable Places, the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute, and the (now largely virtual) A+D Museum in L.A.
Together, the AIA wrote, Brooks and Scarpa “continually redefine the role of an architect. They are potent form seekers and socially responsible practitioners, a combination not easily replicated. As they expand the boundaries of practice and chart an architectural path that is equally didactic and successful, Brooks and Scarpa have made a clear and profound impact on the practice of architecture.”
Led by Boston-based co-founding principals Michael Murphy (executive director) and Alan Ricks (chief design officer), MASS Design Group was founded in 2008, two years before Brooks + Scarpa received the same award that MASS is receiving now, during the design and construction of the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda.
In the years since, MASS has grown significantly into a globe-spanning collective comprised of over 200 architects, landscape architects, engineers, builders, furniture designers, makers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers. MASS, as noted by the AIA, has provided millions of dollars in design work while continually demonstrating that a “healthy built environment is crucial for supporting communities as they confront history, heal, and explore new possibilities for the future.” Despite its global reach, MASS continues to maintain a strong presence in Rwanda, where it is now the largest architecture firm in the dense, mountainous east-central African republic. Today, the Rwandan office employs over 80 people, a majority of them native Rwandans, including the country’s first female landscape architect. Also based in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali is MASS.Build, a construction offshoot that employs over 2,000 people, and the African Design Centre, an intensive 20-month fellowship program established in 2018 that serves as a complement to traditional architecture and design school education.
Like Brooks + Scarpa, MASS Design Group is a National Design Award winner (2017).
In addition to the aforementioned North Texas health clinic (its first healthcare project in the United States), stateside projects completed by MASS include the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and a traveling exhibition entitled the Gun Violence Memorial Project, both of which the AIA described as “physical manifestations of the firm’s design philosophy: Justice is Beauty.” The Gun Violence Memorial Project is now on view at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with a larger survey of the group’s work, Justice is Beauty, which runs through September 26, 2022. Most recently, MASS was named as one of five shortlisted teams in the running to design Canada’s LGBTQ2+ National Monument in Ottawa.
“MASS is well-positioned to lead a new approach to design practice by example,” wrote Chicago-based HOK principal Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NOMAC, in support of the firm’s nomination. “Their work not only facilitates beautifully built spaces and environments, but MASS also critically strives to share valuable tools and resources with their project stakeholders. It is through this active and constant collaboration that empowers design to be both beautiful and just.”