Alexander Jacobson

Class Year: 
Los Angeles, CA
Other majors or minors: 
Architecture major
What brought you to Urban Studies?: 

I had a strong interest in architecture when I came to Penn, but I wanted the freedom to explore many other issues related to architecture in fields like sociology, economics, politics, law, history, art and real estate. Once I wrote down all the classes I’d be interested in taking, I discovered the urban studies department would actually give me a major for them, and the fieldwork/thesis seminars seemed to provide a platform for turning academic work into applicable professional experience. My fellow students were fantastic and the faculty was extremely active, accessible and supportive.

Career/Career Ambitions: 

Architect or Planner

Thesis Topic: 
How control over the design process of public spaces like LOVE Park and Dilworth plaza translates into power within Philadelphia’s democracy.
Fieldwork Placement: 
Cecil Baker & Associates
How did majoring in urban studies prepare you for graduate school or your current work?: 

Urban studies coursework translates into the professional/subsequent academic environment beautifully, and the faculty was extremely helpful in guiding me towards fruitful investigations. For example, in my 300 fieldwork seminar, I wrote the seminal “theory-practice” paper on the discrepancy between professional systems for quantifying sustainability, (i.e. LEED, Green Globes, etc) and the theoretical definition of what is actually sustainable. Discussing that paper in an interview got me my first job working for PIDC in the Navy Yard because they were seeking to benchmark their electric consumption patterns, but had no theoretical means or “report card” for doing so.

In another example, writing my thesis on the power of control over the design process has given me a powerful argument for applying to graduate school in urban planning/architecture because it straddles both disciplines and truly weaves them together into a concrete area of research. My thesis advisor, Domenic Vitiello asked many important questions that highlighted the greater significance of the research, very much to the benefit of my thesis and to my ability to draw upon it later during graduate school applications as a piece of experience.

Memorable experiences as a major: 

Michael Nairn's directions whilst giving a fantastic tour of Fairmount Park: Driver: "Where to next?" - Michael: "Well there will be a small embankment to the left, I think we just wrap around that. Then there should be an underground river that..." - Driver: "So is that going to be a right or a left?"

Winner - North 5th Street Revitalization Project Competition (Dec. 2009)
Exhibited works in TKP Gallery of Downtown Philadelphia (Nov. 2009)
Exhibited in Philly Works Design Competition (Oct. 2009) part of Design Philadelphia Festival
Exhibited in Philly Heart Design Exhibition (Oct. 2008)
Research Interests: 

public space, right to the city, public architecture, quantification of sustainability, social barriers to sustainable development, relational aesthetic art

Interned at SLETH Modernism in Aarhus, Denmark (Summer 09)

Interned in the Navy Yard for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (June-November, 2010)

"I shall pass this way but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Stephen Grellet