Thomas Leslie’s practice-based approach to architectural history explains how technical, economic, political, and social factors have influenced design and construction.
Since joining Iowa State in 2000, after seven years with Foster & Partners, Leslie has merged history, technology, and design with innovative coursework and scholarship that has been adopted by educators worldwide. He has linked architecture’s “two cultures” of art and science by showing how architects have always negotiated between functional needs, aesthetic desires, and material realities. His research on Pier Luigi Nervi, Chicago high-rises, Louis Kahn, and postwar design for aviation has shown how traditional histories can be supplemented by studying these structures’ design and construction processes, revealing complex stories that connect architecture to industry, economics and finance, labor, science, and politics.
This research has produced several books—Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934 (2013); Design-Tech: Building Science for Architects (with Jason Alread and Robert Whitehead, 2006/2014); Louis I. Kahn: Building Art, Building Science (2005); and, Beauty’s Rigor: Patterns of Production in the Work of Pier Luigi Nervi (2017). Leslie has published regularly in scholarly publications—the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Journal of Architectural Education, and Architectural Research Quarterly, among others—but also in history, engineering, and professional journals such as Technology and Culture, the Journal of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, the Journal of Illinois History, and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats Journal. His research was highlighted by a Rome Prize in Historic Preservation that supported his work on Nervi in 2013-14 and an American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship in 2010-11, which enabled his work on Chicago high-rises. He has also won grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Graham Foundation and has given over one hundred invited lectures and conference presentations throughout the United States and in over a dozen countries, and he has appeared on C-SPAN’s American History TV, the BBC World Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and local media throughout Chicago. He was the subject of a feature article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2014, and he has written for Architecture, The New York Times, and werk, bauen + wohnen, among others.