Rob Whitehead FAIA

Rob Whitehead FAIA

Associate Professor, Architecture
Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Student Success



Campus Office: 134C Design

Mailing Address
Architecture Department
158 College of Design
Ames, IA, 50011


Research Interests

Prof. Whitehead’s work examines experimental structures and the somewhat untidy, but important efforts to coalesce aspirational (and ideological) values with technical constraints. Experimental structures creatively and purposefully transform matter to achieve performance-based goals; they aren't simply products, but the result of a process of creation and use. 

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. By focusing on the practice of producing experimental structures, important relationships between technical innovations (form, forces, material utilization) and the purposefulness of the experiment (e.g., humanitarian, social, economics) come to light. His scholarship looks at the often under-examined process work. Often the most critical developmental stages of experimental structures relied on the utilization of tools, models, and testing tactics used by pioneering designers (particularly pre-computational era). 

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. 

Whitehead was elevated to a Fellow in the American Institute of Architecture College of Fellows (FAIA) for his contributions to education. 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 (3rd Edition currently under contract). 


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.


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

Selected Publications

  • ISU Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching
  • Revisiting the Arctic City: 50-years of Pneumatic Progress and Perspective
  • BTES Textbook Award, Honorable Mention
  • Disaster Safety Assessment Program (SAP) Evaluator
  • Frei Otto’s Pneumatic Experiments for Humanitarian Design
  • TAA Textbook Excellence Award (College)
  • Thinking, Making, Breaking (A)Way, The Relationships of Innovation in Pursuit of Great Problems
  • Innovation by Design: Project-Based Learning workshops
  • Impact Awards, Merit Award of Excellence
  • Constructing Building Enclosures
  • Re-affirmation > Replacement: Tactical Enhancement for Difficult Conditions
  • Pneumatics for Humanitarian Design: The ideology and technology of lightness and adaptability
  • “Frei Otto’s Pneumatic Humanitarian Design Experiments: The ideology and technology of lightness and adaptability.”
  • Faculty Fellow for High-Impact Practices
  • Structures by Design: Thinking, Making, + Breaking textbook, Routledge Books (Taylor and Francis Group).
  • Structures for Relief & Resiliency: Enhancing Creative Applications of Technical Acumen through Constrained Conditions”
  • “The Lore, Lessons, and Limits of Building Experience.”
  • Mobile Micro-Grid Disaster Relief Crate
  • “Portentous, and Predictable: Eero Saarinen, Ammann & Whitney, and the Damaging Failures of Kresge Auditorium (1950-1955)”
  • The Lore of Building Experience: Deconstructing Design-Build
  • “Model Behavior: The Evolving Use of Physical Prototypes in Structural Shell Design, 1959-1974,”
  • Supporting Students: Using Anthropomorphic Structures to Enhance Early Structures Education
  • All Hands on Deck: Instructors as Collaborators and the Modified Dynamics of Design Build Instruction
  • Ten Concrete Buildings: Donald Judd’s Incomplete Integrations of Art & Engineering
  • Pedagogical Progressions: Reflections from an “Integrated” Technology Sequence
  • Formative Experiences: Saarinen’s Shells and the Evolutionary Impact of Construction Challenges
  • Building a Framework: Rethinking Structural Design in an Architectural Curriculum
  • Comprehensive and Creative Conclusions: Enhancing Structural Design Educational Opportunities in Labs for Architecture Students,
  • Design Intelligence, 30 Most Admired Educators for 2015
  • Miller Faculty Fellowship
  • AIA Iowa Educator Award
  • Saarinen's Shells: The Evolution of Engineering Influence
  • Vernon Stone Fund in Architecture
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Scholars Program
  • Brick by Brick: Improved Outcomes Through Linked Learning Objectives in Building Technology Labs
  • “Pedagogical Progressions: Reflections from an “Integrated” Technology Sequence”
  • Design Tech: Building Science for Architects textbook
  • (RE)Covering Shelter: Enhancing Structural Design Pedagogy by Designing for Disaster Relief
  • ACSA Creative Achievement Award
  • BTES (Building Technology Educators Society) 2011 Teaching Award
  • NCARB Grant for the Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy
  • Honorable Mention, U.S. Green Building Council, Excellence in Green Building Education Awards