Architecture degree in hand, Alexander Bala thought he was headed to a graduate program in Texas. He’d found a roommate and picked out an apartment and was ready to start the next chapter. One email changed all that.

The May 2018 graduate from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies learned that he had been awarded a Fulbright grant. Bala, of Sterling, Virginia, quickly switched gears to spend nine months in Poland creating a digital archive of the work of the late Polish architect Oskar Hansen.

Bala had first applied for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – which offers research, study, and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students – in October 2017 and was notified that he was an alternate. “I kind of put it out of my mind,” he said. “I assumed I wasn’t going to get it. I had to move on and start planning the next phase of my life, which was going to grad school.”

Bala discovered Hansen’s work two years ago and was instantly drawn to him. Apart from a cultural connection – both of Bala’s parents are Polish – Bala was also fascinated by the effect Hansen’s life experiences had on his work.

Hansen grew up and studied in Poland. After World War II, he worked in France before eventually returning to his homeland. “A lot of architects had Western-educated backgrounds and training that they brought back with them to the East,” Bala said. “When Hansen returned to Poland, he had the pressure of this very oppressive regime all around him. As a result, he developed a very humanistic approach to design and architecture within the context of socialist theory.”

Hansen died in 2005, but Bala hopes a digital archive will keep the architect’s legacy alive. Bala will be working closely with the Museum of Modern Art and the Academy of Fine Arts, both in Warsaw, Poland, to find, gather, and curate Hansen’s work and make it available to the public.

“There is no comprehensive account of his work and ideas that anyone can really refer to currently,” Bala said. “So I thought that I would build a foundation or library that I could use throughout grad school. I want to make the archive publicly available, so others could do the same.”

After the Fulbright experience, Bala still plans to attend graduate school to study architectural history and theory. However, Bala has learned from his Fulbright experience that plans often change. “I’m ready to adapt, because it never turns out exactly as expected,” he said.

The Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, administers Virginia Tech’s Fulbright program. To schedule an advising appointment, contact Betty Anderson.

Written by Rebecca Poutasse, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism. 

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