Five key projects by Dezeen Awards judge and MASS Design Group's Kelly Alvarez Doran

US architecture practice MASS Design Group's Kelly Alvarez Doran has joined Dezeen Awards 2023 as a judge. Here, he selects five projects that best reflect his studio's work.

MASS Design Group is a non-profit architecture firm that focuses on creating sustainable, community-centred designs. Last year MASS Design Group was recognised with the American Institute of Architects Architecture Firm Award – the first non-profit practice to receive this award.

As sustainability and regenerative design director, Doran helps principals and designers at MASS Design Group weave in targets for both performance and accountability in all projects. He defines himself as "a father, architect, educator and advocate".

The Canadian architect also holds professorships at The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment in London and at the University of Toronto, where his Ha/f Research Studio is focused on the whole life carbon of the built environment.

"Every design decision has significant consequences"

"I spend my time working with architects and engineers to assess the social and environmental impacts of buildings, developing strategies that utilise architecture's potential for positive change," Doran told Dezeen.

"Central to our work and research is an understanding that every design decision has significant consequences," he said. "I'm working to unpack the reasoning behind contemporary construction and help locate paths towards a regenerative future."

Doran is currently working with the City of Toronto to look at the relationship between urban design and whole-life carbon, the total amount of carbon emissions associated with a building or infrastructure project over its entire lifetime, from production to disposal.

Doran among Dezeen Awards 2023 judges

Dezeen Awards 2023 launched last month in partnership with Bentley Motors. On Tuesday we announced five more Dezeen Awards judges, including architects Thom Mayne and Carla Swickerath, designer Erwan Bouroullec, entrepreneur Siân Sutherland and curators Kamna Malik, Nacho Polo and Robert Onuska.

Submit your entry before Wednesday 29 March to save 20 per cent on entry fees. Click here to find out how to submit your entry.

Read on to find Doran's views on the five projects that best represent the work of his studio.

Munini District Hospital by MASS Design Group

Munini District Hospital, Nyaruguru Province, Rwanda

"Munini was my first project at MASS [Design Group] – one that transformed my understanding of architecture.

"From the start, we focused on developing a material strategy that would leverage the surrounding communities' brick kilns and stone quarries. This was a means of reducing emissions and maximising direct economic investment into one of Rwanda's most remote and breathtaking districts.

"Munini is also the first proof-of-concept of the District Hospital Design Standards that we developed with the Government of Rwanda's Ministry of Health – an approach that establishes a flexible design protocol for district hospitals rather than a cut-and-paste prototype approach."

Ilima Primary School

Ilima Primary School, Tshuapa Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo

"Ilima is arguably the most audacious project we’ve ever taken on, and certainly the one that led to my 'ah-ha' moment. Building a school in one of the most difficult places to access in the world required total reliance on the materials and people immediately nearby.

"By focusing on innovative uses of locally available soils and timber we managed to source 99 per cent of the school's weight within 10 kilometres of the site and spend 83 per cent of the budget directly on-site labour.

"Ilima was also the first project where we considered embodied carbon. We worked with Catherine de Wolfe to quantify the atmospheric impact of the school building. It had close to four per cent embodied carbon footprint compared to the global average."

RICA by MASS Design Group
Photo by Iwan Baan

Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), Bugasera, Rwanda

"RICA presented an opportunity to apply the lessons we learned in Ilima, on a much larger scale.

"We assembled an incredible multidisciplinary team that was focused on reducing upfront emissions and operational demands to build what is expected to be the first climate-positive university campus in the world.

"In just five years the competition-winning scheme has become a 69-building campus that will graduate its first class of agriculture innovators this August."

"Seeing RICA featured on the front cover of RIBA's Built for the Environment report and the project's alumni going on to lead climate-focused policy work elsewhere is evidence that projects can change systems."

Fringe Cities by MASS Design Group
Photo by Iwan Baan

Fringe Cities and the Hudson Valley Design Lab (HVDL), New York, USA

"What I'm really excited about is how we are adapting our approach to the work we're engaged with across North America.

"Our Hudson Valley Design Lab's research and work in Fringe Cities – communities under 100,000 that have been impacted by mid-century urban renewal – has revealed the enormous opportunity that exists across the continent to work with communities and take advantage of existing infrastructure.

"We [North Americans] have more than enough floor area to go around, our challenge is figuring out how to re-distribute what we've already built."

Window Life Cycle Half Design
The map assesses the environmental impact of manufacturing a glass window in North America. Image courtesy of Ha/f Studio

The Ha/f Studio, University of Toronto, Canada

"The upfront emissions of a building are the type of thing that once you've seen it, you can't unsee it.

"Four years ago I started engaging the conversation around embodied carbon in my home country of Canada, hoping I could help the Canadian design community catch up with initiatives I'd seen in Europe.

"The Ha/f Studio is the first course in Canada to teach life cycle assessment [methodology for assessing environmental impact] to architects and has already worked with 25 practices across North America and Europe.

"It has also provided the data to underpin the recent embodied carbon policy work on which I've been collaborating with the City of Toronto."

All images courtesy of Kelly Alvarez Doran unless stated otherwise.

Dezeen Awards 2023

Dezeen Awards celebrates the world's best architecture, interiors and design. Now in its sixth year, it has become the ultimate accolade for architects and designers across the globe. The annual awards are in partnership with Bentley Motors, as part of a wider collaboration that will see the brand work with Dezeen to support and inspire the next generation of design talent.