Greetings from Berkeley. This month’s Where are they now alumni series features Stefan Al (IH 2008-09).
So, where is he now?
Hint: Benjamin Franklin established this university.
LF: Hi Stefan. Please tell us about your background.
Stefan: I’m from the Dutch town of Amersfoort, the birthplace of modernist painter Mondrian. Before coming to Berkeley, I worked and studied in cities including London, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Amman, and Sydney.
LF: What was your area of study at UC Berkeley?
Stefan: I earned my Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning.
LF: What have you been up to since you left?
Stefan: I first moved to Hong Kong, where I directed the University of Hong Kong’s graduate program in urban design. Then I returned to the United States to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. In the meantime, I have finished a few books about urbanization, including Factory Towns of South China, Villages in the City, Mall City and the forthcoming The Strip.
LF: Bravo! We feature your Villages book in the latest I-House Times newsletter.
How has your I-House experience shaped your view of the world or different cultures?
Stefan: Paradoxically, countless conversations in I-House with people from different countries have helped me learn a lot more about my own culture, and recognize its strengths and shortcomings. I an humbled by the cultural richness of the world and believe when we take the best of each culture we have a recipe for success — for instance, German discipline and Italian cooking (not the other way around).
LF: Did your experience at I-House help your career search in any way?
Stefan: Former I-House Executive Director Joe Lurie helped me improve my CV. He also taught me a few things about feng shui!
LF: Joe is known for his stellar career advice but I didn’t know about this other talent.
What is your role now?
Stefan: I am an Associate Professor in Urban Design at UPenn’s School of Design. I teach lecture classes and a design studio, and co-teach an online course, Designing Cities, with 30,000 students enrolled each year. My research focuses on contemporary forms of urbanization, and I am currently working on a new book about sustainable urban design. I also work as a practicing architect on some design projects, and I am planning to do more of that in the future.
LF: Have you been back to Berkeley? If so, what was it like coming back?
Stefan: I go back about once a year; last year for a wedding at the faculty club. The campus’ idyllic setting keeps surprising me, with its squirrels running up redwood trees and the sound of chirping birds — quite unlike the concrete jungle and firetruck sirens of Manhattan, where I live.
LF: What is your favorite way to stay connected to I-House?
Stefan: I stay connected to my I-House past by catching up with former resident friends, whom I have met up with in places as far as Japan and Colombia.
LF: How has the mission and experience of living here manifested itself in your life?
Stefan: The I-House mission of creating a diverse, inclusive and lifelong community is not far off from how I think about we should shape our cities. As an urban designer I think it is important to design cities that accommodate people of different walks of life, and to make beautiful places that are also resilient and sustainable. The best cities are those that are inclusive and manifest a diversity of public spaces and housing options.
LF: That is terrific! Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Stefan: It fascinates me how in just one semester, lifelong friendships can be formed. Being an architect I am inclined to give credit to the quality of the I-House building — not just the outgoing mindset of residents. Housing people in a place with a communal dining hall with long tables where they can share three meals a day, with great patios where they can run into each other, and with a library where they can study together, contributes to creating long-lasting relationships.
LF: Well said, Stefan. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Be sure to stop by I-House when you are back in Berkeley. Go Bears!
Learn more about Stefan at http://www.stefanal.com/bio/
If you are an I-House alum and would like to be featured in our Where are they now series, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 643-7735. Video format messages are welcome.
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