Alumni architect receives honor

Mindy Aust is a principal at Substance Architecture. The firm guided Marston Hall renovations and is currently working on the Student Innovation Center on campus. 

Lindsey Settle

If you’re one of the thousands who have traipsed past Marston Hall, you’ve seen her work. While the outside facade has maintained a historic appearance over time, renovations inside have entered the space into the modern era. Bright, clean lines draw the eye to the the windows where natural light now pours in.

Mindy Aust, Iowa State alum and principal at Substance Architecture, has guided multiple campus projects, including the Marston Hall renovation and current construction of the Student Innovation Center, set to open in 2020. Aust is one of this year’s recipients of the Iowa State University Alumni Association’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award, nominated by the College of Design.

She graduated from Iowa State in 2001 with a degree in architecture and a minor in entrepreneurial studies. While attending Iowa State, Aust was active with the College of Design’s Design Council and the American Institute of Architecture Students, with little thought that she would one day serve as the Iowa chapter president.  

Aust became a principal at Substance Architecture during the course of the Marston Hall renovation project, and referred to it as a project she’s especially proud of. She wanted to preserve its historic elements and incorporate a timeless, useful design for the college of engineering.

Working on such an extensive project, Aust had to collaborate closely with people not only from her firm, but engineering consultants and contractors, which was a special project for the many alum working on the build.

“She brought out the best of everyone involved,” said Ann Sobiech Munson, Associate at Substance Architecture and long time friend of Aust.

Design Excellence

To Aust, Design excellence can mean multiple things; meeting goals of what the project is; understanding how it benefits the community; using a limited material palette; creating simple solutions; working with a clear idea.

An example of her design excellence can be found at the Principal Riverwalk Pavilion and Pump Station in Des Moines, Iowa. Sitting adjacent to the Des Moines River and Court Avenue, the design required a restructuring of the original client plan.

“Many times the simpler solution, the better the project,” Aust said.

Taking the Lead

Aust’s being a principal is significant in that she represents a small number of women in leadership and ownership roles within the Iowa architecture community.

“The history of women in the profession, it’s almost 50–50 in school. When you get in the profession it drops. When you get to leadership and ownership it drops to 18 percent,” Aust said.

She uses her leadership to provide six weeks for maternity leave and two weeks for paternity leave and uses her judgment to hire slow.

“She’s one of the very few women in the state that are architects that are also owners of a multi owner firm, so it’s rare. She’s breaking ground that way,” Munson said.

She became the seventh Iowan to receive the AIA National Young Architect Award and was only the third female ever to be elected president of the AIA Iowa chapter in its 110-year history.

Aust served on the board for seven years, until completing one term as president in 2016. Her goal was to continue the excellence of the chapter and to lead its 1,000 members, 15 people on the board of directors, 5 sections and 16 committees.

AIA Iowa Executive Director Jessica Reinert— who worked for Aust while she was president and has known her for over 15 years— said, “She listens well to the opinions of a diverse group of people and takes all of those ideas into consideration before making a decision.”

With a heart for mentoring, Aust is attuned to her firm members’ desires to teach and mentor and provides resources to do so. Those who know her well say one of her strengths is providing opportunities for people to shine and grow.

“She’s really attuned to people’s strengths and how she can put them together in teams,” Munson said.


Receiving this year’s Outstanding Young Alumni award has provided Aust the opportunity to reflect on her career so far. She likes to think beyond what she can individually achieve, but rather what will advance the collective.

Aust encourages young architects to “know your worth and know your value.”