Don't Miss >

Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise – Stefan Al, University of Pennsylvania

By on October 5, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Stefan Al

Associate Professor of Urban Design

Main affiliation
University of Pennsylvania


United States

North America



Stefan Al is an architect, urban designer, scholar, educator, and author, currently serving as
Associate Professor of Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a leading expert on
urbanization in developing countries, high density cities, and cities of spectacle and entertainment.

In his research, Professor Al aims to understand today’s new key urban forms, how they came to be,
the ways in which they shape lives and affect resources, and implications for policy and design. He
is acclaimed for his work on Asian urbanism with published books investigating China’s informal
settlements and Hong Kong’s compact urban form, including Factory Towns of South China,
Villages in the City, Mall City, and Macau and the Casino Complex. He has made significant
contributions to understanding the role of branding in cities, highlighted in his most recent sole-authored
books on Las Vegas: The Strip and City of Spectacle (under review). His latest research
is focused on adapting cities to climate change and connecting people with places through transit-oriented

Al’s career as a practicing architect includes work on renowned projects such as the 2,000-feet high
Canton Tower in Guangzhou, the preservation of world heritage in Latin America at the World
Heritage Center of UNESCO, and an 11,000-acre new eco-friendly city in India. He has also served
as an advisor to the Hong Kong government, consulting on the development of the city’s harbor and
external lighting guidelines, the Chinese government, advising on new urban design guidelines, and
the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Al teaches Fundamentals of Urban Design, Site
Planning, and various Urban Design Studios dealing with urban design and sustainability challenges.
He also co-teaches an online Coursera class, Designing Cities, with more than 65,000 students.

Al holds a doctorate in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley, an M.Arch. from The Bartlett,
and an M.Sc. in Architecture with distinction from Delft University of Technology. He is an EU-licensed
architect and a LEED Accredited Professional. He is a native of the Netherlands.

English Proficiency

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures
Very often

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability
October 16-21


Main themes
Sustainable Cities
Planning and Design
Climate Change

Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise

“Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise” aims to introduce design responses to sea level rise, drawing from past and present examples around the globe.

Issues which the lecture addresses
Climate change is a severe and growing challenge for the 21st century cities. Urban areas will encounter tremendous challenges when facing sea level rise and flooding issues. “Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise” will provide an overview of best practice resilient strategies. Going against standard engineering solutions, it argues for approaches that are integrated with the public realm, nature based, and sensitive to local conditions and the community.

Short analysis of the above issues
As climate change threatens major cities and delta regions, the most promising resilient strategies combine flood management infrastructure with place-making and nature. Going against standard flood management solutions epitomized by sea walls that obstruct access to the waterfront and reduce biodiversity, this lecture argues for design responses to resilience that create new civic and ecological assets for cities.

Propositions for addressing the issue
Stefan Al proposes four fundamental design responses to sea level rise, including:
1. Protect; 2. Adapt; 3. Restore; and 4. Retreat.

1. Protect
Examples of protect strategies include: breakwaters, floodwalls, surge barriers, seawalls, dikes, and revetments. Various public programs can occur with these type of infrastructures to expand the public realm, including boardwalks, plazas, and parks.

2. Adapt
Examples of adapt strategies include living shorelines, polders, floating islands, and infiltration beds. Adaptation is a nature based approach that accomplishes long-term resiliency and can expand the ecological and recreational assets of cities.

3. Store
Examples of store strategies include floodable squares, water capture, floodplain parks, and storm-water infiltration. Upland storage of water, while not a method of flood protection, helps to control water during floods, plus can enhance the experience of public spaces.

4. Retreat
Examples of retreat strategies include temporary evacuation, strategic retreat, raised ground plains, and the elevation of land. As a planned and design response, retreat can avoid the cost or other adverse effects of coastal protection, and can accomplish long-term resiliency.

Additional Reading Materials
Managing Water: Flooding and Scarcity
Coursera lecture

Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise
Book forthcoming in 2017

Draft presentation