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About Nezar AlSayyad

Nezar AlSayyad is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Architecture, City Planning, Urban Design, and Urban History. In CED, he is a member of the Departments of Architecture and City & Regional Planning and the Urban Design Graduate Group; and he Chaired the Ph.D. Program in Architecture (2001-2009). His other roles on the UC Berkeley campus included: chairing CMES - the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (1995-2014) leading it to International standing; serving as Faculty Director for CASES/KFAS - the Pilot Center for Arab Societies and Environments Studies (2015-2018), and serving as Head Graduate Advisor for the International and Area Studies Graduate Group (2009-2013).

Educated as an architect, planner, urban designer and historian, AlSayyad is principally an urbanist and a public intellectual whose specialty is the study of cities, their urban spaces, their social life. As a scholar, AlSayyad has authored and edited several books on colonialism, identity, Islamic architecture, tourism, tradition, urbanism, urban design, urban history, urban informality, and virtuality. He has also produced and co-directed two public television video documentaries: “Virtual Cairo” and “At Home with Mother Earth.” Among his numerous grants are those received from the U.S. Department of Education, NEA—Design Arts Program, Getty Grant Program, the Graham Foundation, the SSRC, and a Guggenheim fellowship. His awards include the Beit Al-Quran Medal from Bahrain, the Pioneer American Society Book Award, the American Institute of Architects Education Honors, and the Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest honor the University of California bestows on its faculty.

In 1988, AlSayyad founded in CED the area of Environmental Design and Urbanism in Developing Countries (EDUDC), an interdisciplinary area of research and practice that connects history, theory, social processes, and design, as an area of emphasis within the PhD program in Architecture and as an undergraduate minor. In the same year he co-founded the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE), a scholarly association concerned with the study of indigenous vernacular and popular built environments around the world, and in 2018 he became President Emeritus of the Association. AlSayyad also maintained a small architecture and urban design practice XXA - The Office of Xross-Xultural Architecture, which provides design and consulting work to various clients in the US and several Developing Countries.

Philosophy Statement

As an architect, planner, and urban designer, I believe that architecture and urban planning are not simply about self-expression. Instead I see their mission as the attempt to capture the culture of the place within a framework of poetic sensitivity and political position. I believe in architecture as the art of narrative, or good story telling. It is my conviction that architectural projects should be conceived as sound arguments. As an urban Designer, I am committed to an approach that is based on including culture as a basic component of any communicative action. As an architectural historian and urban theorist, I believe that buildings and their surrounding contexts often communicate these embedded propositions and assumptions. As an urban historian, I believe that history is always written from the present moment and often in the service of it. As such there is no history that is innocent of contemporary demands. From this perspective, it is my conviction — as may be evident from my writings — that history is neither the knowledge of things that have occurred in the past, nor the memory of these past events, but rather it is the convergence of these events with certain individuals or communities and in specific places as interpreted by others who are usually removed from the time and place of these events.

Nezar AlSayyad

Areas of Specialization

  • Architectural History
  • Cross-cultural Design
  • Cities and Cinema
  • Cultural Studies of the Built Environment
  • Environmental Design in Developing Countries
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Islamic Architecture and Urbanism
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • Traditional Dwelling Settlements
  • Urban Design History and Urban History
  • Virtual Reality


Ph.D. Architecture, University of California, Berkeley1988
M.S. Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology1981
Dip. Town Planning, Cairo University1979
B. Architectural Engineering, Cairo University1977



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