Welcome to CED Assistant Professor Lamb! We are so excited to have you join the CED community.
Q: What drew you to UC Berkeley?
A: The idea of being at a school that is a public institution with such a rich and diverse student body and so much going on was really exciting for me. I think the Bay Area has some of the most challenging urban problems that are facing American cities today–whether we're talking about the affordable housing crises, transportation crises or climate change and all the inequities that are wrapped up in each of those crises–these are starkly on display in the Bay Area and in California. But it's also a place where there is real policy and design innovation happening. And so it seems like a really exciting place to be doing engaged scholarship and teaching that deals with those issues
Q: And what, specifically, excites you about joining the CED?
A: Both my architecture training and my PhD in planning were at MIT. There's actually a long and very interesting sort of connection between the two planning programs at MIT and Berkeley. A lot of the material that we read and teach at MIT has connections to the Berkeley planning faculty. It was exciting for me to think about entering that kind of tradition established by everybody from Allan Jacobs forward in terms of urban design thinkers at Berkeley and building the next generation of that work. And so I have long had a sense that it’s a place that would resonate with the way that I think about cities, urban design, and planning.
Q: Your title is Assistant Professor of Urban Design for Adaptive Urban Transformation. What does adaptive urban transformation mean to you?
A: The idea of how we use the tools of urban design to advance a climate adaptation agenda that's not just about reducing the physical vulnerability of people and property in cities but actually thinks about the root causes of that vulnerability and the root causes of the dramatically uneven distribution of vulnerability, that's how I think about transformational adaptation. Or, when we say transformation more generally, we're thinking about how these systems that govern our lives and our cities are not serving us and our needs well and are in need of deep transformational thinking.
Q: What interests you about studying climate change and cities?
A: The exciting part is to think about how we use the imperative of adapting our cities, built environments, institutions, and governance structures to the reality of climate change in ways that lead to larger structural changes that we would like to see, and to address some of the other problems that are besetting urban communities. We've seen in the past that if we mobilize planning and design resources to solve a very tightly constrained problem, frequently, we end up making other things worse. And we could very easily go down a similar path of just solving those problems, solving the problem of climate change, solving the problem of heat stress or drought or flooding or wildfires. But if we don't look at those problems in a really holistic and thoughtful way, we could end up exacerbating a lot of existing inequalities and exposing certain people in our society to much more of those risks and making them pay much more of the cost of adaptation.
Q: How will you use your experience working in other cities to teach students about planning for the Bay Area?
A: I've also done most of my research in delta cities. I did my dissertation research in New Orleans and in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. In the last 10-15 years, it's been a realization in Dhaka that not only is the area quite flood prone, but they also are situated in a pretty seismically active place. A lot of the urbanization that's happened in the last 30 years has been on newly filled land, and so there's an interesting confluence of flood and seismic risks that come together because newly filled land is also much less stable when you have a seismic event. So I think there's some interesting potential cross learning that could happen to explore parallels between Dhaka and the Bay Area with respect to dealing with the compounded hazards of seismic and flood risk.
Q: Why did you choose the field of urban studies and planning?
A: As with many people who come to planning and urban studies, it's been a long and winding path. I started my Masters of Architecture at MIT in the fall of 2005, which was the year that Hurricane Katrina and Rita hit in New Orleans. There were many projects that had come out of MIT about the response to Katrina. I got involved in a project developing affordable green and hurricane resistant structures for the communities that are southwest of New Orleans down the bayou. I found that work and place to be really fascinating. So I actually ended up taking a year off in the middle of my masters and working and living in New Orleans.
After going back and finishing school, I lived and worked in New Orleans for the next three years. It just kept becoming more clear to me that, while there was a lot of great work happening, we just weren't getting at the deeper issue of where the vulnerability came from and what the future of this place looked like. So I wanted to widen my focus. I joined the doctoral program at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and was just really thrilled to go back and think about these issues and problems.
Q: How would you describe your teaching style and philosophy?
A: I love teaching; that's one of the reasons I'm thrilled to be starting this position. Teaching allows me to better understand the issues and problems that I'm dealing with in my research and my reading. The deeper engagement with students that's required in teaching is very helpful to me and I learn a lot from students. As for my teaching style, I've done many different kinds of teaching through the years, and I actually enjoy doing large lecture courses. I think it can be an energizing way to teach; it’s sort of performative and it gives you energy.
Q: What do you like about teaching?
A: I've taught a larger MIT lecture course that was an intro to Urban Studies course for undergraduates. It’s just a great pleasure and so much fun to be the person who gets to introduce students to this world of ideas that we all find so fascinating and to these new ways of seeing environments that we take for granted. We can start to see our environments as physically and socially constructed and are then given a sense of agency; that's one of the things that's kind of magical to me about teaching design, planning, and urban studies. I think it can be really easy for people to start thinking we're just stuck with what we've got. But the more we can understand where environments came from and why they are how they are, the more we can develop a sense of agency in thinking of ways to make them better. It’s really just super exciting to work through that process with students.
Q: What are your thoughts on remote versus in-person teaching and how potentially teaching remotely will affect the Fall semester?
A: I'm actually kind of excited about the prospect of being remote or having some portion of the semester be remote because I think for our disciplines, in particular, it's an opportunity. We essentially could have this distributed network of people in all these different kinds of built environments so that we can be teaching and learning from each other in a way that could be really exciting.
Q: Have you taught a studio in the past and, if so, what did you think about the experience?
A: I have done some studio teaching, and I think that's a fabulous way to get at the complexities of design and planning problems, to start with a real place and a real problem and to have to deal with the real constraints that come from such a project.
I've also done some design-build teaching and work in the past where we were designing and making physical objects. And that is rarely incorporated into urban design practice or studios, but I think that there's a lot of opportunity to think creatively about what it means to actually make or manipulate physical objects in ways that can reveal something about how we use our urban environments. That's something that I'm going to be experimenting with in my early studios to see how we can learn through that process of engaging with the material and space around us.
Q: How will you approach teaching about transformational climate adaptation and bringing climate issues into undergraduate classes?
A: My approach to thinking about climate change in cities is not to frame it as a new problem that we’ve never confronted before, but rather to think about where the challenges that we're facing because of climate change come from. Those challenges have roots that you can trace back through the mechanisms of urbanization. So you have to understand the way the cities have evolved over time to understand what that vulnerability is in order to be able to actually address it. I will focus explicitly on climate in some of the undergrad courses that I teach, but I’ll also work to embed questions about these big structural issues that we're talking about throughout the semester in our discussions of urban design.
Q: What is your approach to student research?
A: I’ve served on several thesis committees, and I've had a few different students who I've been working with on collaborative research projects. I honestly find that I learn a tremendous amount from those relationships. Building a research relationship between faculty and students to make sure that the student’s interests and passions stay front and center requires balance. There has to be room for folks to explore and find their paths through work that’s really exciting for them. If we find a shared point of interest–whether that’s a methodological, theoretical, or topical shared space–as a faculty member, I can help them along the way. I have found that the more I can actually understand what's driving the students interest, the more they get out of it in the end and the more I get out of it.
Janet Le, MCP '21, and Rachel Schten, Urban Studies '22.