Justin Brown ’96

A wooden alligator, a climbing pirate, a truck with rolling wheels and an operable hatch still adorn my shelves almost thirty years after their creation.  They remind me of the incremental progress made by doing and the discovery embedded in the process of making that I first learned in my carpentry class in the first, second, and third grade.  It was many years before I discovered how unique this foundational experience was to this school, and I could fully appreciate the deep privilege of a St. Bernard’s education.

St. Bernard’s taught me above all else, how to express myself, not just through woodworking, proper grammar, spelling, and vocabulary, but by building the awareness to see my unique self and the courage to express it.  While rituals like the morning hymn and Friday assembly gave us structure and a collective identity, each of my teachers showed me by example that it was better to be unique and vulnerable than average and safe. Brigham, Kronengold, Sherif, Bazarini, Silvia, Chant, Bowcock, Westcott, Savarese, Crowley, Millhouse all live in me like a single voice, still helping me not only to see, but to be myself.

In college at UPenn, I fell in love with architecture because it combined everything I learned at St. Bernard’s: math, history, science, geography, public speaking, writing, art, woodworking, and above all, self-expression.  It is its interdisciplinary nature that makes this profession so thrilling to me.  Each design project is a process of discovery into another world and an opportunity to expose an undiscovered secret.

Justin is a co-founder and Principal at MASS Design Group, a non-profit architecture firm with offices in Rwanda and Boston.  Most recently, he was Project Architect for the Memorial to Peace in Justice in Alabama, designed in collaboration with The Equal Justice initiative, which has been critically acclaimed by the Washington Post as “one of the most powerful and effective new memorials created in a generation… as clear-sighted, uncompromising and architecturally effective as any American design since Maya Lin’s 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”  He is honored to have his first grade classmate, Jonathan Perez, as his Best Man at his wedding this November.
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