Robert Jan Van Pelt

Robert Jan Van Pelt


Robert Jan van Pelt has taught at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture since 1987, and held appointments at many institutions of higher education in Europe, Asia and North America, including the Architectural Association in London, the Technical University in Vienna, the National University of Singapore, the University of Virginia, Clark University, and MIT.

He is the recipient of many academic honors, including the National Jewish Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the dignity of “University Professor,” and he serves on various academic boards, including that of the Canadian Task Force for Holocaust Education, Research and Commemoration and the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute.

He has (co-)authored thirteen books dealing with diverse topics such as the cosmic speculations on the Temple of Solomon, relativism in architectural history, the history of Auschwitz, the history of the Holocaust, Jewish refugees, and Holocaust denial.

An internationally recognized authority on the history of Auschwitz, van Pelt’s work was featured in the BBC-Horizon programme Blueprints of Genocide (1994), and he acted as one of the three senior consultants to the five-part BBC/PBS series Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State (2005). Van Pelt chaired the University of Waterloo School of Architecture team that developed a master plan for the preservation of Auschwitz (1997). He is the co-initator and Chief Curator of the exhibition Auschwitz, Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, that was shown in Madrid between december 2017 and February 2019, attracting 600,000 visitors. This exhibition re-opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in May 2019.

Because of his expertise on the construction of the gas chambers and the crematoria, van Pelt has been very much involved in the struggle against Holocaust denial, which focuses on the architectural evidence of Auschwitz. He appeared in Errol Morris’s film on the holocaust denier Fred A. Leuchter, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr (1999) and served as an expert witness for the defense in the notorious libel case Irving vs. Penguin and Lipstadt (1998-2001).

His forensic work on the architectural remains and documentation of Auschwitz is one of the pillars of a new sub-discipline of architectural research: forensic architecture. Different from the older meaning that concerns the forensic analysis of collapsed buildings by engineers, the new sub-discipline of forensic architecture concerns the analysis and presentation of man-made structures, buildings and places within legal forums that are deal with the violation of human rights. Because of his standing in this field, van Pelt received in 2015 the invitation to present his work at the largest and most prestigious architecture exhibition: the Venice Architecture Biennale. He assembled a team of University of Waterloo architecture professors and students that conceived and created The Evidence Room. After the Venice Biennale closed, the Evidence Room has been shown In Toronto and Washington D.C.

Research Interests

  • Architecture
  • Holocaust History
  • Concentration Camps
  • Auschwitz
  • Holocaust Denial
  • Antisemitism
  • Architectural History
  • Historiography
  • Temple of Jerusalem
  • History of Ideas
  • Jewish Space
  • Memorials


  • 1984, Doctorate History of Ideas, University of Leiden, The Netherlands
  • 1979, Doctorandus Art History, University of Leiden, The Netherlands
  • 1977, Candidaat Art History and Archeology, University of Leiden, The Netherlands


  • ARCH 120 - An Introduction to Architectural Ideas and Communications
    • Taught in 2022, 2023
  • ARCH 142 - Introduction to Cultural History
    • Taught in 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023
  • ARCH 143 - Settlements, Sanctuaries, and Cities
    • Taught in 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, 2024
  • ARCH 610 - Architectural Research and Analysis
    • Taught in 2019, 2020
  • ARCH 684 - Special Topics in Architecture
    • Taught in 2019, 2020
  • ARCH 692 - Thesis Research and Design Studio I
    • Taught in 2023

* Only courses taught in the past 5 years are displayed.

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