Iowa State architecture professor pens book on Iowa State Fair history

AMES, Iowa -- When he looks at the animal barns at the Iowa State Fair, Thomas Leslie sees cultural history. That's why the Iowa State University associate professor of architecture wrote "Iowa State Fair: Country Comes to Town," published this summer by Princeton Architectural Press. With the fair's buildings as a starting point, Leslie looks at the cultural history of the fair as an intersection between industry, technology and design.

The ISU state fair exhibit will host a book signing with the author, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18. Books will be for sale in the adjoining University Book Store booth. The ISU exhibit is in the northeast corner of the Varied Industries Building.

"The barns and grandstand were high-tech for their day," Leslie said. "The barns are a perfect example of how the fair balances Iowa's two cultures - urban and rural. Their functional, agricultural interiors are dressed up with formal brick skins that fit the designers' idea of an urban fair."

The 168-page book includes 186 images culled from the State Historical Society of Iowa and from Leslie's visits to the fair with his family.

Leslie studies the integration of building sciences and arts, both historically and in contemporary practice. "Iowa State Fair: Country Comes to Town" started as a short paper looking at the construction of the animal barns from a very traditional architectural point of view.

"But when I looked into it more, I realized that a broader cultural history of the fair would likely tease out many other interesting parallels between town and country," he said.

"Architecture can be a really good foundation for this type of cultural history, since it inevitably embodies values, ideals and lifestyle," Leslie said.

Leslie also is the author of "Louis I. Kahn: Building Art, Building Science" (Brazilier, 2005). Leslie was an architect with Sir Norman Foster and Partners in San Francisco from 1993 to 2000, when he joined the faculty at Iowa State. This summer, he was a Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney.