Hey, Architects: Don’t Just Design a Project—Dignify It

In 2005, multiple people died when tuberculosis spread at a clinic in South Africa. The cause of infection was traced back to poor ventilation. Architect Christian Benimana is convinced that “design, or lack thereof in the case of this waiting room, killed all these patients.”

Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore on Wednesday, Benimana explained that the phenomenon of hospital-related infections is not new. Poor ventilation has been understood as a contributing factor since the ground-breaking work of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War in 1854.

“So why, in the 21st century, are people still dying of airborne and hospital acquired infections?” Benimana wondered. For him it’s a question of inequity in global health provisions: “Architecture is not just about building design, but also about the implementation of a dignifying process that creates long-term impact.”

Benimana is principal and managing director at MASS Design Group in Kigali, Rwanda. The design group’s philosophy is to use architecture as a force for positive systemic change, and this is fully evident in their design for Burato Hospital in northern Rwanda.

As late as 2008, the Burera district did not have a single functioning hospital or access to a doctor. To help put this right, MASS Design Group was brought in to design a state-of-the-art healthcare facility. The hospital, which opened in 2011, is designed to reduce the transmission of airborne disease through an innovative layout, intelligent patient and staff flow plans, and natural ventilation.

The group’s work on the hospital was also the foundation for Benimana’s work on a set of guidelines for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, which are now being used to design and build new hospitals. He is currently leading the implementation of the African Design Centre, tipped to be the Bauhaus of Africa.

Benimana is worried by the prospect that Africa will need 700 million new houses, 310,000 schools, and 85,000 healthcare centers by 2050, so training and nurturing the next generation of African architects is a subject close to his heart. He ended his remarks with an admirable promise: “We will continue to push the boundaries of what architecture can do but this need is just immense, so we must invest in the next generation of architects and designers.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference, click here.

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