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.”
He has published twelve 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. At this time he is writing a book on the history of the concentration camp barrack.
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 a senior consultant to the 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.
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). In the movie Denial (2016), which is based on this trial, van Pelt is played by British actor Mark Gatiss.
His forensic work on the crematoria of Auschwitz generated The Evidence Room installation, created in collaboration with Waterloo professors Anne Bordeleau and Donald McKay and independent art curator Sascha Hastings, and a team of Waterloo students, and shown first at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, in 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and in 2019 at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Van Pelt is the Chief Curator of the international traveling exhibtion Auschwitz. No hace mucho. No muy lejos which opened in Madrid in 2017 and in New York as Auschwitz. Not Far Away. Not Long Ago in 2019.