Exhibition

  • Architecture is Never Neutral: The Work of MASS Design Group
    Susan Piedmont-Palladino and Deborah Moore Sorensen
    Curators
    National Building Museum, Washington
    Mar 14, 2020 to Mar 20, 2021
  • GRANTEE
    National Building Museum
    GRANT YEAR
    2019

MASS Design Group, Butaro Doctors’ Housing, Burera District, Rwanda. Photo: Iwan Baan.

Showcasing the work of MASS Design Group, a firm that derives its name from the motto “A Model of Architecture Serving Society,” this exhibition explores the implications of MASS’s unique business model, assesses the success and influence of the firm’s completed design and research projects, and consider how MASS’s impact-based design methodology might inspire more socially-conscious strategies throughout the design and building industry. Founded in 2008, the nonprofit firm’s unusual business structure not only allows it to undertake projects that traditional architecture firms might find untenable, but also enables it to prioritize social benefits for users over financial returns for developers or investors. The National Building Museum believes MASS’s model of practice is poised to disrupt common assumptions about current design and building practices.

Susan Piedmont-Palladino is an architect and director of Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, where she directs the urban design program. Previous exhibitions include Timber City, and Green Community. She is the author of several books, including How Drawings Work: a User-Friendly Theory (2019) and the companion book for the Museum’s Intelligent Cities Initiative, which she also curated. She is an editorial board member for Places Journal and received a 2018 Vision in Design Award from the Branch Museum of Architecture & Design. She holds a master's of architecture from Virginia Tech and BA from William and Mary.

Deborah Moore Sorensen has worked at the National Building Museum for seventeen years. She recently curated Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters and served as cocurator of Designing Tomorrow: American World’s Fairs of the 1930s, Timber City, Green Schools and House and Home among others. Sorensen has published articles on architecture and film, including “Film at Taliesin,” in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright and “Bachelor Modern: Mid-Century Style in American Film,” Blueprints Magazine. Sorensen earned her MA in museum studies from the George Washington University and her BA in the Liberal Arts/Film program at Columbia College.

Cathy Crane Frankel, vice president of exhibitions and collections, leads the curatorial team to develop the Museum’s exhibition program and coordinates the production of the Museum’s exhibitions. She directed the acclaimed series of ambitious exhibitions focusing on sustainability and the built environment, and history-based exhibitions such as House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage. As a member of the Museum’s senior staff, Ms. Frankel participates in the Museum’s long-term and strategic planning. Ms. Frankel has a master’s from the George Washington University and a bachelor’s from Dickinson College.

The National Building Museum’s mission is to inspire curiosity in the world we design and build. Established by an act of Congress in 1980, and opened in 1985, the National Building Museum is the country’s only cultural institution illuminating what, how, and why we build. Housed in a magnificent 1887 edifice modeled after the Renaissance-era Palazzo Farnese, the Museum tells timely and important stories that educate, inspire, and empower visitors. The Museum presents original exhibitions and dynamic educational programs that attract more than 500,000 visitors annually, including children and families, school groups and teachers, and emerging and established design professionals.