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Architecture Faculty and Staff

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Associate Professor

Rob Whitehead

Associate Professor, Architecture

Mailing Address

Architecture Department
158 College of Design
Ames, IA, 50011

Contact Information

Phone: (515) 294-8276
Office: 499 Design


BArch, Iowa State University, 1993
MArch, University of Texas at Austin, 1995

On the Web

Supporting Files

Research Interests

Prof. Whitehead’s work examines experimental structures and the somewhat untidy, but important efforts to coalesce ideological values with technical constraints. Through the lenses of construction history and design-science research, his work explores the complications inherent in structures that intend to do “more with less” including long-span thin-shells and lightweight / deployable structures; the imbricated nature of design and production (i.e., intention and outcome) are topics of focus. Recent work examines aspirational designs that attempt to leverage technical innovations in structures to address profound humanitarian challenges including expanded access to shelter, resiliency, and sustainability. By examining both the process and products, formative failures emerge alongside critical lessons in the evolution of tools, models, and tactics for their integration in practice. Whitehead’s experience as a registered architect and practitioner of design-build activities provide context for the work; this scholarship is coordinated between the writing, design-research, and novel pedagogical activities that introduce these topics to emerging designers. 

His work has been included in books, journals, conference proceedings, funded research projects, and exhibitions. Prof. Whitehead’s work as an author, educator, and designer have been widely recognized with awards including: TAA Textbook Excellence Award (2021), BTES Textbook Award, Honorable Mention (2021), ISU Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching (2020), AIA Iowa Impact Awards, (2020), Design Intelligence, 30 Most Admired Educators, (2014), AIA Iowa Educator Award, (2014), the ACSA Creative Achievement Award (2013), and Building Technology Educator’s Society (BTES) Emerging Faculty Award (2011). 

Prof. Whitehead’s book publications include: Constructing Building Enclosures, “Saarinen’s Shells: The Evolved Influence of Engineering and Construction,” Clifton Fordham, Ed., Routledge, 2020, Structures by Design: Thinking, Making, + Breaking, Routledge, 2019 and Design-Tech, Building Science for Architects, 2nd Edition, Co-Author with Tom Leslie & Jason Alread. Routledge Books 2014. 

Portfolio and dossier of scholarly work, teaching, and extension:

Current Projects

Construction History, Otto: The Educator.  This scholarship exams Frei Otto’s work as an leading experimenter in lightweight structures. Otto’s ideological imperative of “lightness” and the resulting complications of translating unique forms into constructable buildings was the topic of intense and innovate educational research and pedagogical development at Otto’s ILEK (Institute for Lightweight Structures) at the University of Stuttgart. In his work, the connection between thinking, modeling, and constructing was an ongoing and evolving set of research experiments that included significant advancements in tools and models that became contemporary digital parametrics. Unlike other summative works on Otto that focus primarily on the technical qualities of the physical work, this project will examine Otto’s role in education / research, specifically the ideological foundation of his humanitarian-based efforts in his earliest work (1951-55) with the progressive publications and pedagogy of ILEK’s humanitarian-based experiments.

Design-Research: Micro-Structure Damping System for Resilient Facades, is a multi-stable adaptive passive cladding connection for rainscreen systems that enhances structural resilience by mitigating external loads through axial displacement (with Prof. LaFlamme, (Civil Eng., ISU) and Prof. Ricles (Civil Eng., Lehigh Univ.))—the proposal is being submitted for an NSF ECI grant.

On-going research and instructional design-build activities research for “Structures in Service.” Realms include disaster relief, resilient construction, and sustainable food access systems. Applications include: deployable shelters, innovative upcycled materials, portable modular flooring systems, pneumatic forms for shell casting, and sustainable vertical gardens for agroecology. 

Education: Ongoing scholarship of teaching and learning including publication of: Structures by Design: Thinking, Making, Breaking (Routledge, 2019) and Experimental Structures (2022 w/ Prof. Leslie). Focus is on connecting tools, models, and intentions of structural design with a pedagogical process that includes haptic-learning experiences and digital design and fabrication.

Current Scholarship