The combined Santa Fe offices of AOS Architects and MASS Design Group will help expand the humanitarian architecture footprint for Native and non-Native communities in New Mexico and beyond.
ALBUQUERQUE—In November 2022, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and MASS (Model of Architecture Serving Society) Design Group in Santa Fe joined forces, creating one of the most robust design architecture offices—and a venture that’s Native American-led—in Northern New Mexico.
While AOS and MASS leaders view the merger as an advantageous strategic partnership between two offices that prioritize sustainable architecture with an acute focus on Indian Country, Joseph Kunkel (Northern Cheyenne), MASS principal, also sees the union as a call for action.
“[The merger] challenges us to be more present in our tribal communities, in our rural communities, and communities that are underserved,” he says.
The local five-person team of AOS, a firm headquartered in Philadelphia that opened a Santa Fe office in 2004, joins the thirteen-person MASS office, an international humanitarian architecture group that established a Santa Fe location in 2019. Neither have to move far—the two already shared a wall at their respective offices at Second Street Studios.
Together, the longtime design partners and allies, now under the MASS brand, can call upon nearly two decades of experience in both Native and non-Native communities. AOS, a leader in the recently completed Siler Yard: Arts + Creativity Center, an affordable housing development in Santa Fe, has also helped renovate Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and restore Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. MASS, which merged with Kunkel’s Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative in 2019, is internationally heralded for its work in Rwanda and Haiti and locally celebrated for the Wa-Di Housing Development at Santo Domingo Pueblo.
Kunkel and Shawn Evans, MASS principal (previously principal of AOS’s Santa Fe office), started collaborating more than a decade ago. AOS and Kunkel, who, in 2013, was an Enterprise Rose Fellow at the Santo Domingo Pueblo Tribal Housing Authority, began work on Wa-Di, a site-specific and community-inclusive development that materialized into more than forty housing units.
Along with Wa-Di, MASS’s recent Southwest area portfolio includes suggesting potential solutions to the City of Albuquerque Office of Equity and Inclusion for bridging wage and housing fissures for Native and African American communities.
In 2021, AOS received the American Institute of Architects New Mexico Firm Award while MASS won the AIA National Firm Award in 2022. In December 2022, a month after the MASS-AOS merger, MASS obtained the inaugural AIA Santa Fe Firm Award “based on the experience of both offices and the excitement within our peer group of architects in Santa Fe for what we’ll be able to accomplish together,” says Evans.
With the merger, MASS and AOS will begin a wholesale renovation and expansion of the student center at Santa Fe’s St. John’s College. Evans says that AOS has worked on planning an overhaul and preservation of the building’s interior, designed by midcentury modernist Alexander Girard, for four years.
The Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Project at Ohkay Owingeh (“Place of the Strong People”), located approximately thirty miles north of Santa Fe, is another project in the works. For the past seventeen years, AOS has restored some of the deteriorating conditions that had placed the largest Tewa pueblo, one that has existed for more than 600 years, at peril. As part of the ongoing restoration, AOS has incorporated historical physical details of the pueblo’s buildings through conversations with tribal elders.
“That’s a truly thrilling project that I think is really the perfect match between what [AOS and MASS] have been doing for a while now,” says Evans. Along with Kunkel and Evans, AOS’s Garron Yepa (Navajo, Jemez Pueblo), who joins MASS as a senior designer, will help support the firm’s projects in tribal communities.
“I think the depth and breadth and experience that Shawn’s team brings to MASS will profoundly expand our capabilities to serve the partners that we want to be serving, and I think that’s really important to lift up,” says Kunkel.
“The MASS Santa Fe team has aspired to serve communities that haven’t historically been able to access architecture, and while we have been building a portfolio, I think at times we’ve struggled with the ability to fully execute project work from a technical side,” adds Kunkel. “With the team now, we feel very confident that we can bring together full design services and not skip a beat.”
Likewise, Evans is enthusiastic to increase capacity in order to successfully complete complex projects.
“It’s really exciting to be able to support Joseph in a Native-led firm and to continue our efforts,” Evans says. “I’m really thrilled at the opportunities to inspire young Native designers and grow the profession. I think we have got a profound ability to do that in this new, larger office.”