Alexander Felson is an urban ecologist, a registered landscape architect and an assistant professor at Yale University. He is jointly appointed between the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His research focuses on integrating ecological understanding and research methods with urban design and land development strategies to study and shape the feedbacks, adaptive capacity, vulnerability, and resilience of coupled human and natural systems.Felson encourages place-based approaches to urban ecology and through his design and planning projects, links scientific analysis of urban landscape functions with the various design and planning drivers of the built environment and land development. Felson transitioned from professional practice to academia in 2009. In this capacity, he also oversees the joint degree program between Forestry and Architecture. In his first year, he founded the Urban Ecology and Design Lab (UEDLAB)—a dedicated program for teaching and applying urban ecological theory and methods through actionable science. The UEDLAB studies how patterns and processes at local and regional scales are shaped by, and shape, multi-scale processes and patterns and complex adaptive systems that manifest at the regional and even global scale. The Lab partners with the Nature Conservancy for the development of the Long Island Coastal Resilience Plan. The Lab’s work was featured in the recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, entitled “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream”. His team’s work with AECOM and SnohettaArchitects were finalist for the National Parks Department Union Square on the National Mall.
In 2005 Felson developed a novel approach for integrating ecological experimentation into the creative design process—“designed experiments.” Designed experiments are included in several graduate teaching programs in architecture and planning. They embed research experiments within the urban landscape as a means of melding scientific experimentation with urban planning and design. They provide a process whereby ecologists, working with designers, can situate manipulative experiments in urban areas and generate robust scientific data that can help inform and adaptively manage urban ecosystems. Designed experimentation advocates collaboration between ecologists and designers, producing a proactive approach to studying, shaping and designing cities.
Prior to Academy, Felson served as AECOM’s Project Director for the MillionTreesNYC, where he leveraged a publicly funded design project to design and build the country’s largest constructed urban forestry experiment. The experiment tests forest dynamics and performance to provide science-based policy options for green infrastructure, carbon uptake, and habitat function in the wider urban context. On two major suburban housing projects, Felson integrated research into the designs and was able to calibrate on-site wetlands and amphibian habitats with land development. Adapting the experimental method to the design, he successfully redressed environmental assessment issues, aligned interests of stakeholders, and helped improve science-based land use practices. The projects spanned academia and professional practice and provided value for the developers. In recognition of his accomplishments in reconciling business interests with environmental concerns, Felson was selected as Crains “40 under 40” for year 2009.
He has lectured and published widely and has been awarded several ASLA Honor Awards for his work. He received a B.A. and an M.S. from Wisconsin-Madison, an M.L.A. from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University.