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Iowa State University

August 26, 2011

Thomas Leslie, an internationally recognized expert on the history of technology and architecture, has been named the first holder of the Pickard Chilton Professorship in Architecture in the Iowa State University College of Design.

Leslie, professor of architecture, is an award-winning teacher and author, and previously an architect with one of the world’s leading design firms.

Iowa State alumni Jon Pickard and William D. Chilton -- the founding partners of Pickard Chilton, a collaborative global architectural practice headquartered in New Haven, Conn. -- created the endowed professorship to support the recruitment and retention of Iowa State faculty who are leaders in the advancement of progressive architectural education. Both Pickard and Chilton received Bachelor of Arts degrees in architecture from ISU in 1976.

“Professor Leslie brings together significant practice experience and an exemplary teaching record with a clear scholarly research program,” said Professor Gregory Palermo, director of the ISU architecture program.

“The Pickard Chilton Professorship will allow him to build upon prior scholarship to delve even more thoroughly into issues of construction technology, building design and cultural change, and to share this knowledge with students, colleagues and peers in the profession.”

During his initial three-year  (renewable) term as the Pickard Chilton Professor, Leslie intends to research and produce two publications—a series of essays on the relationship between technology and aesthetics in the buildings of Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, and a comprehensive history of the roles building science and technology have played in influencing architectural design, based on his nationally recognized elective seminar, “Physics and Form.”

He also plans an effort to revive the interdisciplinary pilot Design Science course he offered with other College of Design faculty as part of the college’s first-year Core Design Program in 2006. The new course would be targeted toward advanced undergraduate and graduate students and emphasize design as not only a creative activity, but a practice based in experiential problem solving.

Leslie teaches the fifth-year comprehensive design studios and advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in architectural science and technology. He has received numerous awards for teaching and creative achievement from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the American Institute of Architects. His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Graham Foundation and the American Philosophical Society, among others.

Leslie is the author of “Louis I. Kahn: Building Art, Building Science” (George Braziller, 2005) and “Country Comes to Town: The Iowa State Fair” (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007). He co-authored “Design-Tech: Building Science for Architects” (Architectural Press, 2006) with colleague Jason Alread, ISU associate professor of architecture. He is completing work on “The Technical Evolution of the Chicago Skyscraper,” to be published by University of Illinois Press in 2012.

Prior to joining the Iowa State faculty in 2000, Leslie was an architect for Foster and Partners, London and San Francisco. He holds a Bachelor of Science in architectural studies with high honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Architecture from Columbia University.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for the last 10 years of research and teaching, and for the potential to expand it through the Pickard Chilton Professorship,” Leslie said. “This award will support deeper, more extensive research into technically fluent and expressive buildings that I have wanted to explore, and these will all be important case studies in the classroom. By learning from examples, students understand things better, since they’re seeing how other architects and designers have approached similar issues.”

Leslie observed that his research is in tune with Pickard Chilton’s philosophy of “wanting to do things beautifully, but also to do them right,” he said.

“It is appropriate that Pickard Chilton produces work that is large-scale and very complex, but also quite rich and expressive. My research deals with how architects and engineers take these sorts of complicated problems and elevate them to enriching architectural experiences.”

Leslie will be recognized in a campus ceremony Friday, Sept. 9.

The Pickard Chilton Professorship in Architecture is one of 85 named positions created during Campaign Iowa State: With Pride and Purpose, the university’s recently completed fundraising effort, which resulted in more than $867 million in gifts and future commitments for facilities and student, faculty and programmatic support.


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