• 02.17.12

Can The End Of Military Bases Mean The Start Of New Public Spaces?

As bases close around the country, a new competition asks whether we can do something interesting–and important–with all the land.

Vast new open spaces will open up to the world during the next 10 years: the U.S. military is closing or realigning more than 235 military sites as part of its orders to find $489 billion in savings over the next decade.


So Architecture for Humanity (AFH) has a question for you: “Can we use this opportunity to bring economic stability to areas deserted by closed bases?”

As host of the Open Architecture Challenge, AFH is asking designers around the world to re-envision the future of decommissioned military space through its “[un]restricted access” competition. The six-month competition (PDF brief) with $5,000 in prizes wants architects and design teams to transform former places of conflict into “civic spaces built for the public good.” If teams don’t have bases closing in their own communities, Architecture for Humanity has selected five sites that teams without a local site can use including Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, the NSA’s “East Bank” in New Orleans and Flak Towers in Vienna, Austria.

They’re raising some tough questions in the process: “Can we re-envision the more than 750,000 abandoned bunkers that pepper the Albanian landscape? Is there a second life for the recently bombed Libyan military strongholds? Can we use environmental diplomacy to re-imagine Guantanamo Bay Detention Center? Is there a way to turn vacated bases in Afghanistan into places of learning?”

But turning places of conflict or decay into vibrant centers of community life and ecological restoration is the kind of work AFH already does around the world. Its network of 50,000 design and architectural professionals donate their time and skills to build (or rebuild) shelter for those mired in poverty, recovering from natural disasters or simply in need of better design environments.

Those are exactly the skills to redesign military bases for a new generation asked to beat an earlier era’s swords into plowshares.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.