Rob Whitehead

Rob Whitehead FAIA

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

Signature Research Areas


(515) 294-8276

Campus Office: 134C Design

Mailing Address
Dean's Office
134 College of Design
Ames, IA, 50011
Social Media


BArch, Iowa State University --1993

MArch, University of Texas at Austin --1995


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.

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