Carl M. Sapers died on Wednesday, July 18 after a brief illness. A Boston lawyer with a wide-ranging corporate career who specialized in working with architects, he was a partner and then managing partner at Hill and Barlow for 45 years, retiring in 2002. Among other achievements, Sapers served as Adjunct Professor of Legal Practice in Design at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design from 1984 to 1993 and an Adjunct Professor of Studies in Professional Practice in Architecture from 1993 to 2009.
Sapers was one of the country’s pre-eminent lawyers in architecture and construction law. He was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Allied Professions Medal in 1975 for outstanding achievement in a non-design profession and taught and published widely on the subject.
Born in Boston in 1932 and educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he joined the law firm of Hill and Barlow and after a leave to serve on the Massachusetts Crime Commission returned to become a partner in 1966. He traveled to the Middle East on behalf of The Architects Collaborative in connection with a project for the University of Baghdad in 1959. By the time of his AlA award, he had represented more than 50 architectural firms as general or special counsel. Among those were Hugh Stubbins and Associates, Shepley Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, Sert Jackson and Associates, Jung/Brannen, and PietroBelluschi. In 1968, he became general counsel to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, a role he continued in until the early 2000s. He also served as interim counsel to the AlA, which made him an honorary member in 1988. His practice became international in scope.
In 1972, he began teaching a course called “Legal Problems in the Construction Process” to students in civil engineering and architecture at MIT. Thereafter he became an Adjunct Professor of Legal Practice in Design at the GSD in 1984 and an Adjunct Professor of Studies in Professional Practice in Architecture in 1993.
“Carl Sapers, a legendary teacher with deep integrity and humanity,” writes Grace La, Professor of Architecture. “Much beloved by the Harvard GSD community, Professor Sapers educated hundreds of design students on matters of law and ethics. He is warmly remembered for his fascinating stories of the trials and tribulations in design practice. In sharing these narratives, Professor Sapers shaped generations of practitioners in the foundational understanding of complex issues facing the design professions. He showed us a way of walking in the world and he will be sincerely missed.”
He retired from Hill and Barlow in 2002 after 45 years during which he mentored young lawyers and rose to become managing partner. He retired from the GSD in 2010. During his career he participated in a wide range of public-spirited activities. He founded the Foundation for Brookline Housing, which sought to promote housing for black families in the suburb in which he lived. He later served for nine years as the town’s moderator. Toward the end of his life, he was a prominent member of a mostly Canadian group that successfully opposed the development of Liquid Natural Gas near Passamaquoddy Bay in Maine.
A proud liberal Democrat, he was an avid sailor, reader, lover of classical music, and cooking, whose favorite activity at his summer house in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, was digging for clams and foraging for chanterelles and cooking the results into wonderful concoctions. He leaves his wife of more than 50 years, Judith Thompson Sapers, his children, Jonathan, Rachel and Benjamin, and five grandchildren. Also survived by his brother, William R. Sapers, as well as nieces and nephews.
A Memorial Service will be held at a later date. For online condolences, please visit: www.bostonharborsidehome.com (Boston Harborside Home of J.S. Waterman & Sons Waring-Langeone, 617-536-4110)