It’s always been a bit of a mystery why more landscape architects don’t apply for the Rome Prize. It isn’t because it’s obscure: The fellowship is one of the best-known and most prestigious awards for designers and humanities scholars, the kind of résumé bell ringer that’s recognized across the professions. At its center is an 11-month (on average) residency at the American Academy in Rome’s Villa Aurelia among a diverse group of scholars, musicians, and artists, and the rich community working in and around the academy. But while the architecture fellowship has always been highly enrolled, perhaps because of the academy’s early association with the architect Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead, and White, the two (on average) fellowships for landscape architecture do not receive nearly the same amount of applications. And that’s a shame: “This is an opportunity not to be passed up,” says Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, a principal at Hargreaves Associates.
Jones was a Rome Prize fellow in 1997–98, and she describes her fellowship year, when she made topographic models of Renaissance gardens, with unabashed enthusiasm as “life changing” and “transformative.” She now chairs the board of trustees, the first woman and the first landscape architect to do so, and she’d like to see more landscape architects throw their portfolios in the ring.
Despite its lofty origins and association with classical studies, the academy supports a wide range of new work from emerging artists and designers, and the city of Rome is so rich that there are many ways to develop project proposals that overlap with contemporary research and practice. Jones suggests those applying should focus on the portfolio—the body of work is paramount—and that those at any point in their career should apply. “Juries are looking for people for whom it will be game changing,” says Jones. “It really is a time to take time to really look and see things.”
The current Rome Prize fellows in landscape architecture are Kim Karlsrud and Daniel Phillips of Commonstudio and Adam Kuby, an environmental designer from Portland, Oregon. Recent past landscape architecture fellows have included Bradley E. Cantrell and Elizabeth Fain LaBombard, and Walter Hood, ASLA, Thomas Oslund, Peter Walker, FASLA, and Eric Reid Fulford have also been fellows. Applications for the next year’s Rome Prize are due November 1, 2014, and carry a small fee of $30 per application. Late applications will be accepted until November 15 with a fee of $60 per application. More info about the fellowship as well as eligibility and requirements can be found on the AAR’s website.