Werner Sobek was born 1953 in Aalen, Germany. From 1974 to 1980, he studied structural engineering and architecture at the University of Stuttgart. From 1980 to 1986, he was post-graduate fellow in the research project ‘Wide-Span Lightweight Structures’ at the University of Stuttgart and finished his PhD 1987 in structural engineering. In 1983, Sobek won the Fazlur Khan International Fellowship from the SOM Foundation.
In 1991, he became professor at the University of Hanover (successor to Bernd Tokarz) and director of the Institute for Structural Design and Building Methods. In 1992 he founded his own company Werner Sobek which now has offices in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, London, Moscow, New York, and Dubai. The company, which was founded in 1992, has over 200 employees and works with all types of structures and materials. Its core areas of expertise are lightweight construction, high-rise construction, facade design, special constructions made from steel, glass, titanium, fabric and wood, as well as the design of sustainable buildings.
Since 1994, he has been a professor at the University of Stuttgart (successor to Frei Otto) and director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and of the Central Laboratory for Structural Engineering. In 2000, he took over the chair of Jörg Schlaich; and fused the Institute for Lightweight Structures and the Institute for Construction and Design into the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK). Both in its research and teaching, the (ILEK) at the University of Stuttgart unites the aspect of design that is dominant in architecture with the focus on analysis and construction from structural engineering as well as materials science. On the basis of a goal-oriented and interdisciplinary approach, the institute is concerned with the conceptual development of all types of construction and load-bearing structures, using all types of materials. The areas of focus span construction with textiles and glass all the way to new structures in reinforced and prestressed concrete. From the individual details to the whole structure, the approach focuses on the optimisation of form and construction with respect to material and energy use, durability and reliability, recyclability and environmental sustainability. The results of this work are published in the bilingual (German/English) serial from the institute (IL) or published individually in special research reports on particular topics.
In 2008 Werner Sobek was appointed Mies van der Rohe Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. In recognition of his manifold academic achievements, the Technical University of Dresden awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2009.
Werner Sobek is known for his environmentally sustainable and self-sufficient prototype houses such as R128 and H16. A well-known concept study by Werner Sobek is “R-129” which uses a polyurethane skin on a carbon-fibre frame, giving it walls thinner than eggshells. His commitment to sustainability is also reflected in his involvement in the German Sustainable Building Council DGNB Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen. In July 2007, Werner Sobek was one of the DGNB’s founders. In April 2008 he was elected as the council’s president, an office he held until June 2010.