Michael Murphy, founding principal of MASS Design Group, steps down

MASSive Impact

Michael Murphy, founding principal of MASS Design Group, steps down

Michael Murphy (Courtesy MASS Design Group)

Late last week, 2022 AIA Firm Award–winning nonprofit architecture collective MASS Design Group announced that founding principal Michael Murphy is vacating his role as president and CEO to “pursue new initiatives.” Murphy, who is 42, will remain on the MASS Board of Directors. As reported by Fred Bernstein for Architectural Record, Murphy plans to open his own design studio and has also accepted an endowed chair at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he currently teaches. The nonprofit has not announced immediate plans to fill the president and CEO role.

Senior principals and managing directors Patricia Gruits and Christian Benimana will lead MASS Design Group from its Boston and Kigali, Rwanda, headquarters, respectively, in Murphy’s absence. Also continuing in his leadership role is Chief Design Officer Alan Ricks, who cofounded the nonprofit alongside Murphy, Marika Shioiri Clark, and Alda Ly in 2008 with the mission to “research, design, build, and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity.”

Fifteen years on, MASS Design Group (MASS is short for Model of Architecture Serving Society) is comprised of a globe-spanning multidisciplinary team of more than 200 architects, landscape architects, designers, engineers, builders, researchers, writers, filmmakers, and other creatives hailing from more than 20 countries. In addition to Boston and Kigali, MASS Design Group operates studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bozeman, Montana, and Murphy’s hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York.

From its bustling Kigali outpost, MASS Design Group operates the largest architecture firm in Rwanda, employing over 80 people, including the country’s first female landscape architect. Also based in the Rwandan capital city 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.

“I am grateful for the opportunities Michael created, which allowed us to demonstrate the power of architecture in creating a more just and beautiful world,” said Ricks in the announcement of Murphy’s departure.

As Murphy steps away from the organization he cofounded, MASS Design Group is involved with 60 current global projects, including $250 million in the construction and pre-construction phases. In addition to the receiving the coveted AIA Firm Award in 2022, other awards and accolades bestowed to MASS Design Group include a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award (2017) and Arts and Letters Award (2018).

The nonprofit has also participated in the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial and the 2018–2019 cycle of Exhibit Columbus and was recently a shortlisted contender to design Canada’s forthcoming LGBTQ2+ National Monument in Ottawa. Completed stateside projects include an inclusive health clinic in North Texas (its first healthcare project in the United States), the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and a traveling exhibition entitled the Gun Violence Memorial Project. MASS Design Group is also working with Fort Worth, Texas, nonprofit Transform 1012 to envision the transformation of a former KKK lodge into an inclusive arts and community hub. “We are inspired by the possibility of using design to help transform a symbol of hate into a symbol of healing,” Justin Brown, principal at MASS Design Group, told AN of the project.

Said Murphy, a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in a statement shared by MASS Design Group:

“Founding and leading MASS has been the privilege of a lifetime. I look forward to continuing my service on the MASS Board of Directors and supporting its mission, partners, and projects in that role.

And I am excited to begin the next chapter of my career, including not only working with the wonderful students at The Georgia Institute of Technology, where I have accepted the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished Chair but also launching a new venture which will focus on sharing the financial ownership of our built environment more equitably.”

Most importantly I want to thank everyone at MASS, every single member of the team, each of whom fearlessly made an important idea into a reality. Nothing can supplant the hard work of our dedicated employees who are evangelists of how the built world can be shaped to improve the lives of individuals every day.”

AN will circle back when we learn more about Murphy’s next chapter.