How did you find your current job?
I’ve known SOM for a while - as an architect, they designed some of the most remarkable skyscrapers around the world. Their master planning and urban design studio also have many significant projects worldwide. The redevelopment plan for Philly’s 30th Street Station Area really inspired me, and I was hoping I could be part of that project. After graduation, I applied for an opening online, after several rounds of interviews, I got the opportunity. Overall it is something I’m passionate about - making impactful plans with a comprehensive yet systematic approach, for our cities.
What kind of work are you doing?
I’m an urban designer in the San Francisco office, working on master planning and urban design projects across a wide range of contexts, especially in China and Pacific Asia region - where cities have seen robust development and growth in recent years. My day-to-day work involves research and study to understand the multifaceted challenges of our design projects, creating and crafting of design solutions, and production of “urban design deliverables.” No one project is the same, thus it often requires digesting large amount of information in a short period of time and synthesizing them into design frameworks. Then it is the design phase, where urban designers, architects, landscape designers sit together to work on the design products.
What attracted you to the firm or job?
The opportunity to work on exciting projects with a lot of talented colleagues. SOM is known for its cross-disciplinary and collaborative design process. This really comes out in our large scale urban planning projects, when an urban designer and planner need to coordinate with so many different stakeholders, experts and consultants, and your own teammates across multiple offices. Besides this, the resources and opportunities to learn at a global design firm are plenty. There are many experienced and talented senior colleagues who you can learn from during day-to-day work. Let it be the tricks of using certain softwares, communication skills, work management and so on. Also, there are people with other expertise, architects, structural engineers, and marketing professionals, all working together on projects - the exposure and horizon you can see can be very broad.
How did your education at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design prepare you for your current tasks?
My studies at the Weitzman School concentrating in Urban Design gave me a really good foundation in not only the skillset needed to perform the various tasks as a professional urban designer and planner, but also effective skills in collaboration and teamwork. I didn’t have any formal training related to architecture / design fields prior to Penn, so for me the great resources of learning from my peers from other departments, such as landscape architecture and architecture, also helped me to achieve the skill level I needed. But overall I think the most significant part that Penn teaches me is to think critically, but do things pragmatically. It is never easy to reach a balance between critically judging the situation and practically executing a solution. Our workshop and studio classes provided many of these situations for us to go through and improve our decision-making at the end.
Are there specific courses and instructors that influenced you philosophically?
There are three classes having such influence on me I think. Professor Dana Tomlin’s Geospatial Software Design really changed my way of seeing the world - observing and analyzing; and more importantly, making connections among superficially irrelevant things. His class is enlightening and inspiring, and the assignment he gives us really provokes my imagination and encourages innovative thinking. I think the philosophical thoughts coming through his classes are something I will always benefit from for a long time, much more than the skills or tricks he also teaches. Professor David Gouverneur’s Urban Design Research Studio, also the various studio reviews he attended during the two years, showed me how an urban design plan is made for complex sites. Many of his classes focus on critical settlement issues in conflicting situations where the environment is under threat by human activities, and exacerbated by social inequity. His philosophy in weaving the nature and people together through ecological design with sustainable systems, is creative and deeply provoking. Then the planning workshop and Scott Page’s Site Planning class in our first year are really good classes teaching me how to make a plan, through collaboration and teamwork. “The advocate planner”, as emphasized many times by the class, gives me a positive and initiative-driven attitude towards plan-making.
Any top moment(s) of your education here?
One of the top moments I would say are the international studio trips. I went to Bogota and Cartagena in Colombia in my second year study. It was an impressive memory, to travel to a foreign developing country with drastically different societal, economic, and cultural characteristics. I think these international travels made us aware of the critical challenges faced by planners and designers globally and encouraged us to have an open mind when dealing with them, which I think is very important. Also, I was fortunate to work as a creative editor for the City Planning Department’s Panorama journal - the student-run annual journal publishing students' work. It was definitely one of the top moments during my two years at Penn - not only an opportunity to learn from your peers through their best works, but also to produce a comprehensive and thoughtful issue from them.
There are a few on my pipeline to-do list: I see myself working in the urban design and planning field - but wishing to push for incorporating digital and data technologies into my work, to improve the productivity and innovations for urban planning. I’ll get more experience in executing urban design plans, from start to finish, for various project types, also keep myself up to date with the latest technology for design and planning, such as parametric design, spatial analytics and interactive simulation. Then try to go visit more places with legacy plans and place making, to learn from the great works in the past.
Are you keeping in touch with others from your class/the Penn community?
Yes. There are quite a few classmates and alumni now working in the Bay Area - in transportation planning, urban design, or data science fields. Also, we have several classmates located in other cities on the west coast, such as LA, Seattle, and San Diego. We have reunited a couple of times and visited each other during holidays. Having this connection is great for our friendship and I believe will be very helpful for our professional development in the future as well.
Any words of advice for prospective students?
Definitely talk to your advisors / your professors, build a good relationship with them, they’ll be very glad to teach you great lessons and open doors for you. Be open to new ideas, make new friends with your peers from other departments / schools. Take critics as your opportunities to learn, try many things. Work hard but also try to be efficient. Show your talents and take initiatives.