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Feb 08, 2017

Fort Devens, The BSA

800px Devens MA 02

Header image: DevensMA 02. Credit: Magicpiano, creative commons license, modified.

President Bill Clinton was closing military bases as part of his budget-cutting strategy. Fort Devens in Massachusetts was one of the bases to be closed, and the four surrounding towns were devastated: What to do with 9,000 acres? The towns approached the BSA for help in masterplanning ideas for the base. As BSA president at the time, together with the Committee for Social Responsibility, I committed us to lead in creating what was then one of the earliest and biggest charrettes at the time. It was such a new activity that we discussed at great length how to spell the word (with one “r” or two?), let alone how to organize such an important community event. BSA executive director Richard Fitzgerald’s unflagging support was crucial to our success.

We were stunned by the generosity of donors, BSA volunteers, architects, engineers, landscape architects, politicians, lawyers, and especially of the citizens in the four towns who gave us places to stay and food to sustain us. All 140 participants gave four days of their time and attention to the future of the base. The masterplans were based on principles of sustainability and reviewed by the townspeople in an open forum. Although our work was praised, the towns asked whether we had been asking the right questions. The better question to ask, they explained, is not how to divide up the 9,000 acres but how to govern it as an independent entity!

The true results of the charrette were not physical masterplans, but the charrette problem-solving process for the towns to carry out on their own: investigations about governance and how to relieve the financial burdens for building infrastructure on such a large parcel of land. The results of the towns’ problem-solving charrettes was an independent entity called “Devens,” governed by representatives from each town, which I believe continues today.

The BSA gives architects, including myself, a chance to pursue issues of community and leadership that we might not otherwise have. For me, in 1993, sustainability was a relatively new concept. People were trying to define the word, as I remember, let alone know how to implement green thinking. Learning how to sustain so many people on our finite planet was/is an opportunity for leadership by architects, and my goal for being BSA president for the year. Our many subsequent BSA charrettes have been a successful vehicle for helping educate and lead communities into making sustainability a design imperative.

Elizabeth "Zibby" Ericson FAIA, 1993 BSA president