Denise Costanzo receives 2014–15 Rome Prize

April 14, 2014

Denise Costanzo, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at Penn State, is the recipient of a 2014 Rome Prize Fellowship in Modern Italian Studies from the American Academy in Rome.

Her Rome Prize project proposal, “Eternal City, New Lessons: Architects at Modern Academies in Postwar Rome,” asks what Rome meant to architects after World War II and how four international academies (the American, French, British, and Spanish Academies) responded to modernity and fulfilled new roles within Rome’s Cold War cultural landscape.

Rome is a natural destination for aspiring architects, who have studied its classical monuments for centuries. “But after World War II, when modernism became the norm, academies could no longer just assume it was relevant. They had to reframe its value for architects, and each did so differently,” Costanzo explains. Her project expands her earlier research into the postwar American Academy, when “an amazingly open-minded new director just let them discover the city’s meaning for themselves,” she adds. “He had faith that freedom, not rules and limits, would enrich their thinking and work.”

The Rome Prize is awarded each year to about 30 emerging artists and scholars whose proposals are evaluated by committees in each field. The American Academy’s Board of Trustees announced this year’s recipients on April 10. Costanzo’s fellowship includes an 11-month stay at the Academy and provides room and board, a stipend, and workspace. Its community includes fellows, residents (prominent figures invited for part of the year), and visiting artists and scholars.

Costanzo joins the ranks of top scholars and artists affiliated with the Academy. These include Penn State colleagues Anthony Cutler, Evan Pugh professor of art history, a former resident; James Wines, professor of architecture; Brian Curran, professor of art history; and Chris Counts, professor of landscape architecture, all of whom are Rome Prize Fellows. The academy’s other famed architects include Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier, and Glenn Murcutt. Its prominent architectural historians include James Ackerman, John Pinto and Diane Ghirardo.

“It feels overwhelming to see my name in connection with theirs,” noted Costanzo. “The academy has a strong history of sponsoring gifted architects and great scholarship on Italian culture. It’s an honor for my work to be part of that tradition.”

Costanzo was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in the summer of 2013. Funded by a Penn State College of Arts and Architecture faculty research grant, she conducted preliminary research in the archives of each academy. It was also a brief sample of life there. “You’re among so many enriching people—writers, scholars, sculptors, architects. I can’t imagine what eleven months will be like.” One pleasant surprise was meeting a classical scholar who was at the academy during the mid-1950s who was happy to share her own recollections with Costanzo.

Ever since studying in Italy as an undergraduate, Costanzo has been intrigued by its importance to American architectural culture. “Rome has obvious intrinsic value for architects,” she notes. “But its importance is also a construct perpetuated by academies and other systems. It’s not automatic.”

When asked how she feels about joining an institution she analyzes, Costanzo chuckled and said, “We’ll see! I hope I can stay objective, even as I enjoy all its amazing benefits.” She continued, “I’ve been impressed by the Academy’s support for this project. I’m scrutinizing a conflicted period in their past and the mythology sustaining their mission. But they’ve opened their archives without reservation.”

Costanzo received a bachelor of environmental design from Texas A&M and her master of arts and doctorate degree from Penn State’s Department of Art History. Her work has been published in the Journal of Architecture, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, and several edited volumes, and she has a forthcoming article in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Costanzo has delivered invited presentations at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, and shared her work at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Turkey. She is the recipient of a Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Astorino Fellowship and a Department of Art History dissertation fellowship. Her first book, What Architecture Means: Connecting Ideas and Design, is due for publication by Routledge Press in 2015.

To view the full list of winners, visit

  • portrait of Denise Costanzo

    Denise Costanzo, Assistant Professor of Architecture

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Building of the American Academy in Rome

    View of the American Academy in Rome

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Landscape view of Rome

    view of the Villa Medici, the site of the French Academy, from the American Academy in Rome

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated January 09, 2015