A non-profit architecture company is hiring filmmakers

Thatcher Bean remembered the unexpected assignment that transformed his life, with both nostalgia and excitement about the future.

It was September 2013, and Bean, an emerging filmmaker, received a call from Alan Ricks of MASS Design Group. Although the Boston-based non-profit had invited the co-founding principal architect to present a TED Talk, he was not comfortable being the sole voice for the company’s projects.

MASS is an acronym for Model of Architecture Serving Society. It was created by Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that designed and built Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. Ricks felt that all those involved in the project should be mentioned, but Ricks needed an expedient filmmaker.

Bean was the filmmaker. He arrived in Africa three days after receiving the assignment. The footage of the seven-day trip changed Ricks vision about how the firm communicates. He also mapped a new narrative for MASS. 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl profiled the firm on Sunday’s broadcast.

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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 Africa based projects.

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

Over the past eight years Thatcher Bean, who has been telling many stories over the years and oversees nine MASS filmmakers.

“I think that just in terms of media and form, architecture is often told by photograph of an empty building, and that communicates that it’s a sculpture, it’s not this changing, living thing over time, that really impacts people’s lives,” Bean explained to 60 Minutes Overtime. You can’t tell a story with just a photo… This is why we invest so heavily 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


Despite being the son of an architect, buildings and designs were not always in Bean’s plans. At 19-years-old, the Colorado native moved to Uganda to pursue a career as a professional white-water kayaker. After about a year Bean decided it was time for a new challenge and followed his passion into filmmaking. He holds a bachelor’s in fine arts and has become integral to MASS’s efforts to recharacterize how society thinks about building. The goal is not to create architecture. It’s to solve problems,” Bean told 60 Minutes Overtime. It was thrilling because that opened up new possibilities for film, such as how film could be used as an architectural research tool to aid architects in determining the scope of the project. “

Research for MASS often includes interviewing people who will interact with the final project while it is being developed. As varied as the projects and locations they work on, the stakeholder list is as diverse as the project areas. The firm has built universities in Rwanda, hospitals in Haiti, and landmark 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. Boom mic operator is Xavier Nsengiyumva, sound technician.

MASS Design Group


“I think it’s about telling the stories of why these projects matter, of what is possible when we think about things through this lens of economic, environmental, social impact, health impacts, that you want to hear from the builders, you want to hear from the patients and the doctors, and that it can’t just be told through architecture alone. Thatcher Bean hopes his work with the team will influence how architects are viewed as “mechanisms to bring about change.” “

” We hope that storytelling and changing the narrative will help change people’s perception of architecture …” Bean stated. Bean stated, “Hopefully people will demand something more from their buildings or the ones they work in.” “

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

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

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