Why a nonprofit architecture firm is hiring filmmakers – 60 Minutes

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Thatcher Bean recalled the spontaneous life-changing mission with a mixture of longing and excitement for the future.

It was September 2013, and Bean, an emerging filmmaker, got a call from Alan Ricks of MASS Design Group. The principal architect and co-founder of the Boston-based nonprofit had been invited to give a TED talk, but was uncomfortable being the only voice speaking on behalf of the projects of the ‘business.

MASS, acronym for Model of Architecture Serving Society, had recently worked with the nonprofit Partners in Health to design and build Butaro hospital in Rwanda. Ricks believed those who contributed to the project should be included in his lecture, but he needed a filmmaker on short notice.

Bean became that filmmaker and three days after learning about the mission he was on the ground in Africa recording testimonies.

The footage from the seven-day trip changed Ricks’ view of how the company communicates and forged a new narrative path for MASS. 60 Minute Correspondent Lesley Stahl introduced the company on Sunday’s show.

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MASS co-founder Alan Ricks walks with Lesley Stahl at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture, one of MASS’s many projects based in Africa.

“We figured out early on that talking about process is talking about people, and you can’t do that with just a drawing,” Ricks told Stahl. “You can’t tell an end user story without talking to them, literally. “

Over the past eight years, Thatcher Bean has told many of these stories and now oversees a team of nine filmmakers who work for MASS.

“I think just in terms of media and form, architecture is often told by the photograph of an empty building, and that communicates that it’s a sculpture, it’s not that living, changing thing over time. time, which really impacts people’s lives, ”Bean explained. at an additional 60 minutes. “You can’t tell this story just with a photo … That’s why we’ve invested so much in film.”

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Thatcher Bean oversees the global filmmaking unit at MASS, which includes storytellers based in Boston, Kigali and Barcelona.

Mass Design Group


Although he was the son of an architect, buildings and designs weren’t always in Bean’s plans. At 19, the Colorado native moved to Uganda to pursue a career as a professional whitewater kayaker. After about a year, Bean decided it was time for a new challenge and followed his passion into filmmaking.. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is an integral part of MASS’s efforts to redefine the way society views construction.

“The point is not to do architecture. It’s to solve problems,” Bean told 60 Minutes Overtime. “And so that was exciting because it also opened up a ton of new opportunities for filmmaking, like how we could actually use film as a research tool early in the architectural process to help architects understand what the project is. had to do.”

Research for MASS often includes interviews with people who will interact with the final project during its development. Stakeholders vary as much as the places and projects the business undertakes. The company has built universities in Rwanda, hospitals in Haiti and monuments memorials in the United States.

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MASS Design Associate Noella Nibakuze (far left) is interviewed by filmmakers Nailla Simbi (seated) and Tracy Keza while. sound technician Xavier Nsengiyumva operates the boom microphone.

Mass Design Group


“I think it’s about telling the story of why these projects are important, of what’s possible when we think about things through that lens of economic, environmental, social, health impact, whatever you want. hear from builders, you want to hear from patients and doctors, and that it can’t just be told through architecture. “

As for Thatcher Bean, he hopes that in the short term, his team’s work will change the way people view architecture as a “mechanism for creating change.”

“We hope that by telling stories and changing that narrative, we can change the awareness of what it is. [architecture] can do… “said Bean.” Hopefully people start demanding something different from the buildings they live in or their organizations invest in. “

The above video was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.

Additional images and photos courtesy of MASS Design Group and Ariadne Labs & Mount Sinai.


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