After World War II, the American Academy in Rome faced a choice: remain a bastion of declining Beaux-Arts classicism or pursue a more modernist agenda. In “A Truly Liberal Orientation”: Laurance Roberts, Modern Architecture, and the Postwar American Academy in Rome,Denise R. Costanzo demonstrates how Laurance Roberts, director of the Academy from 1946 to 1959, orchestrated its reorientation and welcomed architectural modernism. Under Roberts, a reconfigured Rome Prize in architecture—with no prescribed activities or stylistic limits—attracted graduates of top modern programs. During the 1950s conservative alumni attempted a counterreformation, and Roberts’s efforts to engage prominent modernists as resident architects faltered, highlighting the Academy’s limited relevance to the postwar discipline. Despite these challenges, Roberts established a more progressive administration that allowed Louis Kahn’s and Robert Venturi’s epochal stays, kept Rome on the American architect’s map, and offered one possible model of a “modernist academy.”

Since 1894, the American Academy’s Rome Prize has sponsored extended residence in the Eternal City for architects, artists, and humanities scholars.1 The Academy was originally established to promote Beaux-Arts classicism, and it remained a bastion of the style through the 1930s, a period examined closely in Fikret K. Yegül’s foundational 1991 study of the Academy’s architectural culture (Figure 1).2 After World War II, as modernism gained wider acceptance, this defining artistic paradigm became an anachronism. Yet the Academy not only survived but also, arguably, experienced its “golden age” during the postwar years. Its resurgence can be attributed in large part to the efforts of Laurance Page Roberts (1907–2002), Academy director from 1946 to 1959, and his wife, Isabel Spaulding Roberts (1911–2005) (Figure 2). Laurance Roberts, with support from the Academy’s president, architect, and McKim, Mead and White president James Kellum Smith (1893–1961), enacted policy reforms that redefined the Rome Prize in the visual arts and ended the Academy’s prohibition on modernism. He also fought to rebuild its artistic prestige, a project that included pursuit of an implausible goal: making the Academy a desirable destination for modern architects.

Figure 1

McKim, Mead and White, Main Building, American Academy in Rome, ca. 1925–30 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 1

McKim, Mead and White, Main Building, American Academy in Rome, ca. 1925–30 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 2

Laurance and Isabel Roberts at the American Academy in Rome, ca. 1959 (American Academy in Rome Records, 1855–ca. 1981, bulk 1894–1946).

Figure 2

Laurance and Isabel Roberts at the American Academy in Rome, ca. 1959 (American Academy in Rome Records, 1855–ca. 1981, bulk 1894–1946).

This agenda would be manifested in how consistently Rome Prize fellowships were awarded to young architects associated with modernist design programs; in the Academy’s new policy of creative freedom, which supplanted a deeply entrenched, steadfastly conservative aesthetic orthodoxy; and in Roberts’s beliefs about which senior architects should be affiliated with the Academy as residents and trustees. Collectively, these changes demonstrated Roberts’s intent to align the Academy with American architecture’s new, modern direction and to liberalize an institutional culture formerly marked by traditionalism and insularity.

These efforts led to a backlash. Roberts and several alumni clashed over how to balance the Academy’s pursuit of cultural leadership with continuity of identity and mission. My analysis of this pivotal period at a highly influential U.S. cultural institution also poses a broader question: Is progressive academy an oxymoron? Since seventeenth-century France, academies have been exclusive, elite communities that codify, preserve, and diffuse cultural eminence in architecture and other artistic and intellectual fields. Was the Roberts Academy, remarkable for its openness and indeterminacy, “an academy in name only,” as Yegül suggests of its late twentieth-century history?3 Or might it offer a model of an alternative, “liberal” academicism?

A New Direction

While Roberts’s tenure is rightly considered a distinctly progressive period at the Academy, the 1945 appointment of Charles Rufus Morey (1877–1955) as acting director already heralded significant change.4 Morey had just retired as professor of art history at Princeton to become the U.S. State Department’s cultural officer in Rome; his interim Academy position was a second, part-time role.5 The Academy had closed in 1940 for the duration of World War II, and after Rome’s 1944 liberation its facilities housed U.S. embassy staff and American servicemen.6 Morey, who had served as the Academy’s professor in charge of classical studies in 1925–26, provided useful familiarity with the institution.7 He was also an early critic who had refused to support a 1924 codification of Academy arts policies called “the Credo.” A historian of late antique and medieval art, Morey objected to the Credo’s insistence that classicism is the only model for great art; although his view was not radical, the Academy’s administration received his diplomatically expressed opinions as heresy.8

In 1935, however, concerns about artistic decline at the Academy spurred its new director, Chester Holmes Aldrich, to examine the institution’s policies. He invited Henri Marceau, a 1925 Rome Prize fellow in architecture, Philadelphia Museum of Art curator, and the museum’s future director, to assess the success of the Academy’s recent arts fellows. Marceau reported:

Many important artists, who would otherwise be eligible, feel that the Academy does not offer them the opportunity for original work. Many prefer to travel and thus derive many of the advantages offered by the Academy in Rome and yet remain free to interpret their experiences their own way. These painters and sculptors seem to be the ones whose work has been successfully received in the current exhibitions of our Museums and Art Galleries.9

Along with this critique, Marceau documented a measurable decline in professional success among fine arts fellows. While the Academy was not yet ready to rethink its artistic mission, by the end of the 1930s it was undeniable that a Rome Prize in the arts did not correlate with the success the prize’s founders had envisioned. That the Academy Board of Trustees in New York, whose membership saw considerable turnover during the war years, chose to put a former critic like Morey in charge in 1945 indicates that fundamental change, however unpalatable to some, was considered inevitable.

In 1945, as the Academy’s leaders prepared to reopen Rome operations after the wartime hiatus, they considered specific policy modifications. The Fine Arts Committee met repeatedly, invited comments from Academy trustees and alumni “in all the branches of the Arts,” and subsequently offered five recommendations to the board.10 These included allowing married artists (men and women) to receive fellowships and inviting both American and European artists to the Academy for short-term residencies. The committee’s final suggestion was the “selection for director of a young energetic layman with an understanding of scholarship and the fine arts.”11 These proposals show that the Academy’s governing artists were ready to make far-reaching changes.

The call to select as director a layman—that is, someone who was neither an artist nor a classicist—with both scholarly and artistic competence was a new idea. The Academy had been established by a circle of artists and patrons, of whom the most ardent was architect Charles Follen McKim, founding partner of McKim, Mead and White in New York.12 The American School of Classical Studies in Rome (ASCSR) was established in 1895. An agreement produced a single academy in 1913 with two separate schools of fine arts and classical studies, each with its own professor in charge, overseen by one director. Such a bicameral institution should have a director who reasonably knows both fields, or should have leaders who alternate between them, but this had not been the case at the beginning of the unified Academy. Its first director from 1913 to 1917 was classicist Jesse Benedict Carter, the ASCSR’s final head, who assumed the role after artist Frank Millet, the intended appointee, perished on the Titanic in 1912.13 Until Morey was appointed in 1945, all of Carter’s successors were architects. The 1945 call for a director representing both scholars and artists thus departed from nearly thirty years of Academy practice.14

Laurance and Isabel Roberts knew scholarship and the art scene well. They were art historians who met while working at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where in 1938 Laurance was promoted from curator to become the nation’s youngest museum director at age thirty-one. Isabel gave up her job when they married but assumed her husband’s museum directorship (at a reduced salary) from 1942 to 1946, during his war service in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence branch. Laurance and Isabel thus possessed comparable managerial and cultural experience. Both were active and well connected in the arts and academia, and both had experience in managing a large, complex cultural institution.15 Neither had any direct connection to the Academy, although Laurance had studied under Morey at Princeton, worked at the Philadelphia Museum with Marceau, and served in Military Intelligence with Academy president James Kellum Smith.16 At age thirty-nine, he was “young” and “energetic” and fulfilled the job description to the letter.

The Academy also implemented other proposed changes, with a few exceptions. The postwar Rome Prize fellowships would last one year, with a second year upon approval (not two with a possible third as suggested), and non-American artists would not be eligible to be invited officially until the 1960s.17 But allowing fellows to be married accommodated a war generation that had postponed, then accelerated, education, careers, and families.18 Gender-inclusive arts fellowships also resolved a long-standing internal conflict. The Beaux-Arts establishment behind the early Academy was strongly chauvinistic, while women’s colleges, their students, and female faculty were central to the ASCSR.19 The 1913 unification permitted women in classical studies but not the fine arts and circumscribed their presence within Academy facilities (Figure 3).20 A critical 1939 report outlined women’s second-class living conditions and how space limits discriminated against female senior scholars.21 In 1945 some alumni still insisted that “women must eat separately” or that “men must have, at least, one meal together.”22 Although this position did not prevail, only a handful of women received arts fellowships before the 1970s, and in 1973 admission of women to the fine arts was still viewed as “startling.”23 Nevertheless, ending formal discrimination and welcoming spouses (usually wives) did help create a more gender-balanced environment (Figure 4).

Figure 3

Fellows in main dining room, American Academy in Rome, 1921 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 3

Fellows in main dining room, American Academy in Rome, 1921 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 4

Dining room, American Academy in Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 4

Dining room, American Academy in Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Short-term artist residencies were part of a radically altered supervisory structure for the fine arts. Formerly, a permanent professor in charge oversaw fellows’ prescribed work (Figure 5). After the war the Academy discontinued this position, ending direct management of artistic work in Rome. Roberts assumed some of the duties of the professor in charge, such as leading field trips for arts fellows, while resident artists representing all discplines provided short-term mentorship. Such rotating appointments were flexible and strategically noncommittal on artistic style while addressing concerns about rigidity and stagnation in the Academy’s creative culture.

Figure 5

Olindo Grossi, reconstruction of the Forum of Julius Caesar, Rome, 1934 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 5

Olindo Grossi, reconstruction of the Forum of Julius Caesar, Rome, 1934 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

After the Board of Trustees received the suggestions in the 1945 report, President Smith reported to the Academy’s Advisory Council and alumni about the institution’s postwar future. He discussed the searches for a new director and a professor in charge for classics, and he praised the Classical School committee’s planning work, but Smith was silent on the fine arts recommendations.24 A few months later, soon after Roberts accepted the invitation to become director in 1946, he received a letter from the Academy’s New York office with comments on its “readjustment to post-bellum conditions.” The letter described these comments (not preserved) as “the fruit of a determined effort … to utilize the war enforced lull to think through the unsolved problems of [past] procedures. But more than a search for correctives of past mistakes, if such there were, the endeavor was to draw up a chart for the Academy’s future and the fuller role it should play in relation to the practice of Fine Arts and the pursuit of Classical scholarship in America.” Roberts was informed that no proposal “pertaining to the School of Fine Arts has been adopted by the Board.” He was also warned that “some of the suggested reforms seem to cancel each other out.”25

A majority of the board’s Fine Arts Committee must have approved the proposed reforms, but the defensive tone of the letter to Roberts shows that the Academy’s full leadership remained divided. Roberts thus inherited unresolved disagreements about the organization’s artistic future, including the possibility that the Academy would eliminate the fine arts entirely.26 This drastic option raised a valid question. There was no question that classicists, archaeologists, and art historians would benefit from time in Rome.27 The Academy’s relevance to visual artists, however, was less clear.28 Restricting the Academy’s scope to humanities research would have alienated half the alumni, abandoned the institution’s artistic origins, and left the separate and much larger endowment of the School of Fine Arts adrift. To remain, however, the School of Fine Arts had to either relinquish its defining raison d’être (the promotion of Beaux-Arts classicism) or sacrifice contemporary relevance. For a community that had defined itself as a bulwark against the “barbarian invasion” of modernism, any change implied capitulation, even an unacceptable admission of “past mistakes.”

Despite the trustees’ apparent inaction, Roberts was empowered to implement most of the committee’s proposed changes and also to end the fellowship age limit of thirty. In addition, while the Academy had no stated policies on race or ethnicity, the first African Americans to receive Rome Prizes did so during Roberts’s tenure as director.29 The selection process for visual arts fellows also changed. Instead of participating in a design competition judged by alumni and trustees, applicants submitted statements outlining their reasons for seeking a fellowship, samples of their work, and letters of recommendation.30 Jury members varied from year to year and included outside representatives of the appropriate disciplines.

The postwar Academy’s renewed vigor was the result of these many changes. The institution’s reputation also benefited substantially and directly from the Robertses’ sophistication, hospitality, and generosity.31A grandson of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s founder, Laurance came from a wealthy Philadelphia family. Isabel was a Vassar graduate who declined a Carnegie Fellowship for graduate study upon marriage. Their Academy residence, the refurbished seventeenth-century Villa Aurelia, attracted an array of prominent midcentury cultural figures. A steady calendar of teas, concerts, dinners, and receptions provided the members of the Academy community with enviable opportunities to interact with such luminaries as Alfred H. Barr, Leonard Bernstein, Pier Luigi Nervi, Isamu Noguchi, Gisela Richter, Iris Origo, and Gian Carlo Menotti, to name only a few (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Alfred H. Barr and Isabel S. Roberts, Villa Aurelia, Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 6

Alfred H. Barr and Isabel S. Roberts, Villa Aurelia, Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

At the outset, however, some were alarmed by the changes. In 1947 Arthur Deam (FAAR architecture 1926), chair of design at the University of Pennsylvania, detected “grave danger in this year’s [Rome Prize selection] method” and warned Smith that projects from “certain schools” are produced by critics, not students, who are “incapable of doing the kind of work for which [they are] given credit.” He added, “I hope after this year’s competition that we will use a method similar to the Paris Prize in which the student’s work alone is the factor in obtaining the scholarship. No other basis of competing and judging will produce the best men.” Deam then ignored this principle by nominating two University of Pennsylvania alumni who had already received special Academy wartime fellowships.32 President Smith urged patience, since “the experiment might be informative.”33 The two men agreed that “no method of selecting scholarship winners is fool-proof,” but Deam might understandably have preferred tradition. As an alumnus and head of a program that produced five of thirty past Rome Prize architecture fellows, he was accustomed to having his recommendation carry considerable weight.34

Awarding fellowships to architects handpicked by alumni would have also guaranteed the Academy could resume operations in the fall of 1947. In August 1946 it had announced optimistically that it would reopen “on October 1, 1946 for eleven holders of War-deferred Fellowships” and welcome new Rome Prize fellows one year later.35 The 1946 deadline was missed, and only one fellow, architect Walker Cain, accepted a deferred prize in 1947 (Figure 7). As other national academies opened, meeting the second target became imperative. Soon after Deam wrote his letter, however, the decision of the architecture jury was postponed because there were too few applicants.36 Despite the situation’s urgency, rather than draw upon alumni connections, Roberts held fast to the new process. The outcome shows he was determined to demonstrate that the Academy had changed and now embraced its former adversary: modern architecture.

Figure 7

Walker O. Cain in his American Academy studio, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 7

Walker O. Cain in his American Academy studio, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Modernists on the Janiculum

In 1945, Olindo Grossi, then the Pratt Institute’s dean of architecture and an Academy alumnus, suggested that “men like Saarinen, Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier [should] … visit the Academy to stimulate the Fellows” (see Figure 5).37 Grossi’s vision of an Academy that welcomed modern architects contrasted with Deam’s reluctance to shed Beaux-Arts practices such as placing limits on artistic media: painters no longer had to be muralists, and sculptors were no longer required to produce “monumental sculpture.” For architects, mandatory analytiques and reconstructions of ancient monuments were discontinued, along with the chronically unpopular collaborative design problem for interdisciplinary teams. Restrictions on periods and topics were eliminated, as were officially sanctioned styles.38 Postwar fine arts fellows were free to use their time as they wished. The Academy controlled only their stipends, housing support, and requests for a second year in Rome.

These changes mark a definitive break with the Academy’s former, traditionally “academic” creative framework and tendency toward paternalistic, hierarchical, and authoritarian structures. The School of Classical Studies retained a professor in charge to manage its ongoing excavations, but two of its five fellowships became postdoctoral prizes.39 Fellows were no longer considered pupils to be supervised; rather, they were part of a community of artists and scholars at varying stages in their careers (Figure 8 and Figure 9).

Figure 8

American Academy fellows, spouses, and visitors at Bar Gianicolo, Rome, 1948. Clockwise from left: Marion Kelleher, Dorothy McGuire Swope, Patrick (“Joe”) Kelleher, Helen Thon, William Thon, George Howe, Concetta Scaravaglione, and an unnamed woman (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 8

American Academy fellows, spouses, and visitors at Bar Gianicolo, Rome, 1948. Clockwise from left: Marion Kelleher, Dorothy McGuire Swope, Patrick (“Joe”) Kelleher, Helen Thon, William Thon, George Howe, Concetta Scaravaglione, and an unnamed woman (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 9

Academy fellows and residents in the fine arts, Villa Capponi, Florence, 17 October 1947. Left to right: Albert Wein, Henry McIlhenny, Walker Cain, Charles Wiley, Concetta Scaravaglione, Patrick (“Joe”) Kelleher, William Thon, Laurance Roberts, and Frederic Coolidge (Laurance and Isabel Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence; photo by Isabel Roberts; courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College).

Figure 9

Academy fellows and residents in the fine arts, Villa Capponi, Florence, 17 October 1947. Left to right: Albert Wein, Henry McIlhenny, Walker Cain, Charles Wiley, Concetta Scaravaglione, Patrick (“Joe”) Kelleher, William Thon, Laurance Roberts, and Frederic Coolidge (Laurance and Isabel Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence; photo by Isabel Roberts; courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College).

The Robertses established a collegial, open tone. Their “deliberate laissez-faire” allowed “the new Academicians of the post-war years [to] manage themselves. The students are no longer treated as seminarians; they are recognized as mature individuals.”40 Alumni praised how Roberts “had the grace and wisdom to treat us as adults, to leave us to our researches or our creative talents,” all the while “backing no particular cult or school, loving the past, yet keeping a clear and ever-alert, unprejudiced eye for the newest contemporary development.”41 In 1956, visiting journalist Sylvia Wright saw the Academy as “painstakingly sympathetic to the idea that a Fellow, however earnest, may produce nothing very definite in his first year… . This hands-off policy is in the able hands of the present director, Laurance Page Roberts … who presides with detachment, humor, and grace.”42 Most former Academy directors had seen Rome as an eternally authoritative foundation for cultural leadership.43 Roberts’s expertise, in contrast, was in Asian art, and he had traveled to Japan and China in the 1930s.44 This global perspective informed his “uncommonly broad outlook” on culture and creativity and his support for new, critical interpretations of the caput mundi.

Nonetheless, eliminating Beaux-Arts orthodoxy and providing an open forum for creative work could not make the American Academy in Rome a place with which Le Corbusier, who called the Villa Medici (the French Academy in Rome) “the cancer of French architecture,” might wish to be associated.45 Despite his “hands-off ” approach, Roberts took direct action to pursue an architectural agenda that was consistent with Grossi’s hopes. In early 1947 Roberts met with Dean Joseph Hudnut of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD).46 Ten years earlier Hudnut had hired Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius as the GSD’s chair of architecture, thus equating the GSD’s midcentury program with modernism. Roberts visited Harvard to promote the new Academy, and the effort yielded results. Both new Rome Prize architecture fellowships for 1947 went to GSD graduates; so did the only one awarded in 1948, as well as one of the three bestowed in 1949.47 If Deam’s preferred candidates did apply, this outcome suggests they had little chance.

The University of Pennsylvania program adopted a modernist direction in 1950 under G. Holmes Perkins, formerly of Harvard. But no Penn graduates won a Rome Prize in architecture until 1961, despite the Penn program’s history of prewar success. Columbia University, whose design program remained traditional until the late 1950s, experienced the greatest decline. From 1894 through 1940, its graduates won ten of the thirty Rome Prizes awarded overall, but not one would receive a postwar architecture fellowship.48 Harvard assumed its dominant position: GSD alumni won nine of the thirty architecture fellowships awarded from 1947 through 1960 (only one had received a prewar Rome Prize). Graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by West Coast modernists William Wurster (1945–51) and Pietro Belluschi (1951–65), earned four Rome Prizes in architecture during this period. So did four Princeton graduates, Robert Venturi among them. Princeton’s midcentury program under Jean Labatut is best known for emphasizing history, but it taught modern design by the late 1940s. Graduates of Yale, which produced seven prewar architecture fellows, won five Rome Prizes in the period 1947–60.49 Although Yale’s architecture dean Everett Meeks was part of the Academy’s traditionalist old guard, Yale’s program had welcomed modernists as visiting critics since the 1930s.

This suggests a bias in favor of the best-known modernist programs in the United States, especially Harvard’s, and against Columbia and Penn, top Beaux-Arts schools that were slow to adopt modern architecture after the war. Significantly, Yale’s postwar Rome Prize architects all won after 1950, the year Philadelphia modernist George Howe became chair of the Yale Department of Architecture. He assumed this position after returning from Rome, where he had served as the Academy’s first architect in residence from March 1948 to December 1949 (Figure 10).50 Howe’s residency and the predominance of graduates from modernist architecture programs show that Roberts was intent on aligning the Academy with modern architecture. The two strategies intersected: one GSD graduate’s only recorded motivation for seeking his 1947 Rome Prize was the chance to be at the Academy with Howe.51

Figure 10

George Howe at the American Academy in Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 10

George Howe at the American Academy in Rome, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Architecture was one of six fields in the postwar Academy’s School of Fine Arts, which was one administrative half of the institution, but it was undoubtedly the Academy’s most powerful discipline.52 In addition to the Academy’s uninterrupted sequence of architect-directors from 1917 through 1940, the presidency of the Board of Trustees was held by architects for the institution’s first sixty-four years.53 In 1947 the twenty-three-member board included six architects, five other artists, and three classicists.54 Artists vastly outnumbered representatives of the Academy’s scholarly half, and architecture carried more weight than all the other arts combined.

Relevance to contemporary architecture was a clear priority for Roberts.55 In his first letter to Howe, he stated that his residency “is a guarantee that the Academy will be a force in contemporary architecture, and gives it a distinction it could have in no other way.”56 Two weeks later Roberts wrote to Howe again: “What you are giving the Academy through your reputation, your knowledge, and your presence there [in Rome] is of enormous value. If the Academy is to mean anything to contemporary architecture, it will be due first of all to you.”57 Like Roberts, Howe had no prior involvement with the Academy. After his early Beaux-Arts career, Howe gained international prominence in 1929, at age forty-two, when he “converted” from eclecticism to modernism and entered into partnership with Swiss architect William Lescaze (1896–1969). Their work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal 1932 show International Architecture: An Exhibition, joining the modernist canon. The exhibition, the accompanying catalog, and Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson’s book The International Style gave Howe visibility and legitimacy among the growing number of North American architects embracing the modern movement.58

Howe promoted modern architecture through dozens of published articles and a series of visible appointments.59 In March 1947, the month he was contacted by Roberts, Howe became director of the competition for the Jefferson Memorial Expansion Monument in St. Louis, which was won by Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch; the competition helped make modernism acceptable as a national symbolic language. On top of his modernist credentials and public stature, Howe possessed “aristocratic” charm and diplomacy; Philip Johnson called him “the greatest gentleman we’ve ever had in architecture.”60 His patrician manner was an asset in his gaining acceptance from the Academy’s establishment, including its conservative board.61 That Howe was a native-born American in a movement led by émigrés was also crucial, since the Academy did not support non–U.S. citizens until the 1960s.62 For a prominent modernist of international reputation, Howe was also unusually available. In 1945, he left his wartime government position for private practice, but he had little success.63 The arrangement was therefore mutually beneficial: Howe weathered a professional dry spell, and the Academy found its modernist figurehead.64

The board eventually granted Howe a second four-month residency, from October to February 1948, and Roberts allowed him to reside at the Academy for almost twenty months, well beyond his official eight-month appointment.65 While in Rome, Howe supported himself by designing a new U.S. consulate in Naples. In late 1949 Howe received an invitation to become chair of Yale’s Department of Architecture at a moment when the consulate project hit a complication; he passed the commission to a Roman architect and left Rome for New Haven.66 The Academy’s Centennial Directory lists Howe as resident architect for three years, 1947–50, his unofficial final months apparently deemed sufficient to cover 1949–50, the year Roberts began making arrangements with Howe’s successor.

Kahn and the Early 1950s

While Howe’s lengthy presence helped change the Academy’s architectural identity, the much shorter stay of Louis Kahn is far more renowned. Neil Levine claims that Kahn’s residency removed “the stigma of regressive conservatism from the Academy’s reputation and helped make Rome once again the place to go in the minds of a younger generation of architects.”67 Some accounts mistakenly call Kahn a fellow rather than a resident, an understandable error since Kahn initially applied for a Rome Prize fellowship in 1947. He did so at the urging of Howe and Johnson, who believed they could guarantee the result.68

The board’s Fine Arts Committee, however, blocked Kahn’s application. A letter from the committee chair, landscape architect Michael Rapuano, explained that fellowships were intended to be awarded to “promising young men at the beginning of their architectural careers rather than to older members of the profession with a background of successful and distinguished practice.” He suggested that Kahn come as a resident, an opportunity for “architects of your age and distinction to visit Rome.”69 Although an official age limit was no longer in force, Kahn, at forty-six, was considered too old for a fellowship.

This standard was not applied consistently: in 1947, a Rome Prize went to sculptor Concetta Scaravaglione, the first ever to a female artist (Figure 11). At forty-seven, Scaravaglione was one year older than Kahn and better established professionally.70The Fine Arts Committee might have decided to award a Rome Prize to a woman artist to publicize the Academy’s new gender policy. Scaravaglione’s prize attained headline status in national art journals, and the Academy took the unprecedented step of announcing, along with the Rome Prize winners in architecture, that “Miss Ilse Meissener, a graduate of Pratt Institute in 1946, was given honorable mention and named first alternate.”71 That Scaravaglione was an “older member of the profession with a background of successful and distinguished practice” may have even been necessary to convince certain jurors of her eligibility.72

Figure 11

Concetta Scaravaglione in her American Academy studio, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Figure 11

Concetta Scaravaglione in her American Academy studio, 1948 (photo by John Swope; courtesy John Swope Trust).

Whether or not Kahn knew about this inconsistency, he agreed enthusiastically to become Howe’s successor in Rome and inquired how to apply for a residency.73 Howe explained that Kahn should allow him and Johnson to recommend him; Howe wrote to Roberts the same day that “it would be difficult to find a more stimulating personality [than Kahn] to preside over the meditations and studies of the young men.”74 Roberts and the board apparently accepted the recommendation, although Howe’s extended stay postponed the need to select a successor for nearly two years, thereby delaying Kahn’s residency.

In December 1949, Academy secretary Mary Williams conveyed Roberts’s hope that Kahn would come for six months under a Fulbright grant, which would subsidize his transportation and up to a year of support.75 Bringing Kahn under the Fulbright program would have spared the Academy, financially strained by Italy’s postwar inflation, the expense of his residency.76 Roberts served on the Italian Fulbright Board from 1949 to 1959; in the period 1949–51, the Fulbright Board awarded 41 of 274 total grants to applicants coming to the Academy.77 Kahn did not apply in 1949 as requested, but he was again invited to the Academy in 1950 and agreed to come that fall.78 He initially planned to sail to Naples in September, but instead he flew into Rome on 1 December 1950 and left Europe by ocean liner in late February 1951.79

Roberts’s dogged pursuit of Kahn shows he wanted to continue the Academy’s association with modern architects. Although Kahn’s residency was only three months long, it had a profound effect on the Academy’s architects. Five months after Kahn left Rome, Roberts wrote to Kahn: “As you know all too well, people can get very stodgy here and become intellectually stale. You gave the Academy just the right shot in the arm and gave the architects the most exciting winter that any group has had here since I’ve been in Rome.”80 In his report for 1950–51, Roberts described Kahn’s trip to Egypt and Greece, taken with architecture fellows Spero Daltas and Joseph Amisano, Amisano’s wife, Dorothy, landscape architecture fellow George Patton, and architect Fritz Sippel, holder of the Lloyd Warren/Paris Prize, as “the high point in the Academy’s postwar history” (Figures 12 and 13).81

Figure 12

Joseph Amisano, Dorothy Amisano, Spero Daltas, Louis Kahn, and Fritz Sippel on a hotel balcony in Delphi, Greece, 1951 (photo by George Patton; George Patton Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

Figure 12

Joseph Amisano, Dorothy Amisano, Spero Daltas, Louis Kahn, and Fritz Sippel on a hotel balcony in Delphi, Greece, 1951 (photo by George Patton; George Patton Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

Figure 13

Louis Kahn (lower right) at the Temple of Apollo, Corinth, 1951 (photo by George Patton; George Patton Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

Figure 13

Louis Kahn (lower right) at the Temple of Apollo, Corinth, 1951 (photo by George Patton; George Patton Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

The architect who succeeded Howe and Kahn was a less familiar figure. Frederick Woodbridge, partner in a modestly successful New York firm, lacked national stature, creative vigor, and modernist credentials.82 He had a Fulbright grant, however, which saved Roberts the expense of a resident for 1951–52. Woodbridge was also an Academy alumnus, which undoubtedly pleased the board. The following year’s resident architect had a stronger, but primarily academic, reputation. Princeton’s Jean Labatut was both a Beaux-Arts graduate and active in modernist circles, making him an appealing candidate to many parties.83 His first residency occurred in 1953, and he returned in 1959, 1964, and 1968.

The resident architect for spring 1954, Pietro Belluschi, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, bridged academia and practice. Belluschi brought an established reputation for modern design, an elite university affiliation, and an increasingly powerful position in the postwar profession.84 Following Belluschi’s stay, the 1954–55 Rome Prize brochure confidently touted the residency program: “To help and advise the architects in their study and travel, the Academy invites a prominent architect to be in residence for part of each year.”85 Ironically, that year was the beginning of the program’s nadir. After Belluschi, the Academy had three consecutive years—1954 to 1957—without any official resident architect, a gap that has never been discussed or explained.


The postwar Academy enjoyed larger numbers of Rome Prize applications and a soaring reputation among U.S. and European cultural institutions. Not everyone associated with the Academy was pleased by its new direction, however, and its records reveal several internal disagreements. In 1950, sculptor and trustee Paul Manship wrote to President Smith from Rome to complain that the sculpture fellows’ work

could as well be carried on in Kalamazoo or Kiokut, and [is] not clearly related to Rome and what the academy stands for. I mean, in a word, confusion has been here created where every effort might be given to encourage study of the Classics whether Greek, Rome—or Renaissance, and I wish more insistence might be made to that purpose, —and so—the Committees who make up the Art juries should be carefully studied. Let us not put too much store in those of the “fresh new spirit.” Those men like yourself and we who are alumni—know better what the Academy should stand for, than the outsiders, however interested and talented.86

Smith’s thoughtful response to Manship reveals his own view of the Academy’s mission and transformation. He noted that his loyalty to the Academy was based on two points: “an absolute conviction of the importance to Western culture of the Classical tradition, and further … the belief of the absolute freedom of the artist in Rome.” Smith defined this creative freedom as the opportunity to find inspiration from any facet of classicism, not necessarily connected to Rome, any single era, or a specific interpretation.87

Yet Smith was pragmatic about how such a position would affect the Academy’s survival in an age of “world-wide rebellion” when young artists were “indoctrinated” against classicism:

Our institution is confronted, it seems to me, with the practical problem of how to attract the most vital of the youngsters, and expose them to [the Academy’s] freedom and its influences and opportunities, hoping that the vaccination will take… . I don’t believe that we can force them [to study classicism], and I don’t think we should try; otherwise gone would be the freedom. But I do hope we can lead them, excite them, inspire them, and rely upon the forces of the cultural influences themselves to do the rest… . We may have made mistakes, and may make others, but it seems to me that in the process a considerable amount of vitality is being pumped into the veins of our beloved academy; this should be worth the best effort of all of us.88

Smith’s meditation on the Academy’s most basic issue—why artists belong in Rome—betrays profound ambivalence. While Manship privileged authoritatively upholding classical tradition, Smith, despite obvious hesitancy (he used the qualifier “it seems to me” six times in his letter), was willing to emphasize creative freedom. This was an act of loyalty to ensure his “beloved academy’s” survival, taken out of faith that a dose of Rome would eventually enrich artists of the current generation and their successors. It is important to note that Smith never mentioned modernism in his correspondence with Manship; rather, he focused only on his ideal of the artist’s independence.

Another philosophical divergence emerged in a discussion between Roberts and Smith concerning the Academy Board of Trustees. In 1951, Walker Cain, the architect who accepted his postponed prewar Rome Prize in 1947, was nominated for a seat on the board. Roberts noted with concern Cain’s youth “in age and reputation.” Cain was thirty-three and had spent his entire career at McKim, Mead and White, a Beaux-Arts firm struggling to adapt to modern practice.89 Roberts tactfully made no direct objection to Cain (who was Smith’s colleague) but stated that “for the future when another architect is considered, now that we have a younger man, I think a man of national reputation should be kept in mind.”90 Smith explained the trustees’ concern about the board’s future: “The desirability of further window dressing of national figures as against that of attracting to the Board people who know the institution, believe in it, and are willing to work hard for it, was debated.”91 He also emphasized the value of adding to the board someone who would take service to the Academy seriously.92 He left unmentioned Cain’s rare combination of youth, loyalty, and conservatism. The only architect-trustee then qualifying as “window dressing” was Howe, appointed in 1950. Apparently, some objected to his effect on the board’s direction.

Roberts’s desire to see the Academy affiliated with prominent architects, versus the board’s interest in dedication and continuity, resurfaced in a 1953 disagreement over architecture residents. Smith had recommended a friend, Atlanta architect Henry Toombs, who, while “conservative in background and training, [was] making an interesting transition to modern trends.” Smith wrote to Roberts that Toombs’s appointment “would, I am confident, have the unanimous support of the Committee on Fine Arts, by whom he is well known and respected. But since we have set up the procedure that such recommendations should originate with you, I am referring the name to you, and advising Henry in accordance with the enclosed letter that I am doing so.”93 Toombs was a Penn graduate who had worked for Academy trustee Eric Gugler at McKim, Mead and White in the 1920s. His own firm had just formed a partnership with fellow Joseph Amisano (one of Kahn’s traveling companions) that became Toombs, Amisano and Wells. They had built several modern projects in the Atlanta area and would later receive national recognition for their work.94

As is indicated by the process through which Howe and Kahn were nominated, potential residents were often identified through internal recommendations. Smith may have assumed that securing an invitation for his friend was only a formality, but Roberts saw things differently. He replied to Smith: “I would have been delighted to have considered Mr. Toombs for next year (I have met him several times in New York and thought him charming, and I have always heard the very best things of his work).” Unfortunately, Roberts demurred, he had already invited Belluschi and theater set designer Donald Oenslager of Yale, a 1954 resident in design arts. “Both men have been on the panel for some time. Belluschi has since replied that he is interested.” Thus, the Academy had its quota for 1953–54, but “should Mr. Toombs be able to wait, I should certainly like to keep his appointment in mind.”95 Roberts’s views on Cain’s trusteeship show his position on connected insiders in visible roles. To him, famous modern architects provided more than “window dressing”; they helped demonstrate the Academy’s creative relevance.

Smith’s reply to Roberts reveals the only conflict in their voluminous and otherwise cordial correspondence.96 He predicted, “I sense that some stormy weather is ahead for the Academy Administration.” Unfortunately, the Toombs nomination coincided with two other issues. An Academy board member had been confronted by publishing magnate Henry Luce, who was outraged by reports that Roberts had publicly criticized the 1953 appointment of his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, as U.S. ambassador to Italy. In addition, Smith had just

learned that some Trustees representing artistic philosophies with which they believe you have been unsympathetic, if not actually antagonistic, to the detriment of a truly liberal orientation of the Academy, are now meeting and organizing— perhaps a friendly, perhaps a very unfriendly opposition… . But your letter explaining that you cannot accommodate an architect of Henry Toombs’ stature and record of collaboration with painters, sculptors and landscape architects … is not going to make matters easier.97

The festering dissatisfaction of Manship and like-minded allies had erupted into an open challenge to the Academy’s postwar policies. Roberts’s alleged opposition to Clare Boothe Luce had fanned their smoldering resentment; the Toombs rejection would, Smith threatened, add fuel to the fire.

Roberts defended himself in diplomatic language that belied much stronger feelings.98 He wrote that he had already explained to the trustee in question that he and Isabel had expressed no personal opinions but had merely, when asked, summarized Italian news stories reporting popular objections to a female U.S. ambassador.99 Roberts reminded Smith of his stated regret about Toombs, reiterating that he was bound by prior commitments. He added that he was “at a loss to account for” the gathering opposition, noted that all his decisions had been transparent, and offered his record as his only defense:

Since every appointment and all policy have always been cleared through the Board it is rather difficult to see what the actual objections may be. Further, I can but say that the present reputation of the Academy both at home and abroad should be ample proof of my wholehearted attempt during these past six and a half years to establish a “truly liberal orientation.”100

This last phrase, taken from Smith’s summary of the protesting trustees’ views, captures the heart of the matter. For Roberts, a “truly liberal orientation” entailed direct association with ascendant and forward-looking cultural ideas, people, and movements. It also meant reversing the Academy’s reputation as an insular club by welcoming outsiders whose worth was established externally. For Manship and his allies, a “liberal orientation” should accommodate minority views like their own instead of substituting a new orthodoxy—modernism—for a past one. The subtext of the controversy was a fervent hope that the trustees’ now-marginalized aesthetics would regain a place in “their” Academy.

Smith’s follow-up letter characterized their objections as “a fear that in trying to correct a pre-war intolerance for non-traditional work, we have gone to the other extreme and are fostering an atmosphere of intolerance for traditional work.” He noted that many trustees had approved the Academy’s postwar changes reluctantly, and on the understanding that both modernists and traditionalists would remain welcome in Rome. Roberts’s consistent preference for modernists—seen directly in his choice of architecture residents and indirectly in the selections of the Rome Prize architecture juries he helped shape—left them ready to reverse direction.101 Smith added: “It would be a mistake to think that they represent only a minority of the Board… . A re-examination of policies at some stage was implied in all of our post-war experiments.”102

Smith revisited the Toombs issue with a tinge of bitterness, noting that Toombs’s residency would have required no financial support “because he is doing a military cemetery. From my point of view an important opportunity to leaven the run of architectural teachers and theorists had been lost.”103 Both men framed this issue selectively. Smith ignored the fact that Kahn, Belluschi, and Woodbridge had active practices, and Roberts probably exaggerated his inability to accommodate Toombs.104 Woodbridge’s residency undoubtedly signified very different things to each of them: for Roberts, it was an unfortunate, expedient concession; for Smith, it provided a legitimating precedent for his request. A Toombs residency might also have eased Smith’s thankless job of mediating between Roberts and the board. Further, in asking Roberts to invite his friend Toombs, Smith had made a rare request for a personal favor after eight years of staunch support.

Roberts and Smith’s friendship survived the disagreement. The backlash culminated in a letter from “nine friends and former Fellows” of the Academy in May 1953 that proposed reversing a number of revised School of Fine Arts policies.105 It showed greatest concern with painters and sculptors, requesting that they be subject to “certain minimum requirements of work.”106 The Academy’s annual exhibitions, however, usually featured very few contributions from architects compared to the numbers from visual artists. Many painters and sculptors used their time and studio space in Rome to produce numerous works. The architects, however, tended to travel, sketch, and take photographs, producing comparatively few architectural projects (Figures 14 and 15). This lack of productivity may have preserved them from notice, since it provided few opportunities for trustees to assess whether architects were learning the “right” lessons in Rome.

Figure 14

Daniel Stewart, project for Enrico Fermi Memorial Pavilion, ca. 1957 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 14

Daniel Stewart, project for Enrico Fermi Memorial Pavilion, ca. 1957 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 15

View of Amalfi, 23 March 1948 (photo by Walker O. Cain; Walker O. Cain Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University).

Figure 15

View of Amalfi, 23 March 1948 (photo by Walker O. Cain; Walker O. Cain Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University).

After four meetings, the Fine Arts Committee sent Smith its response to the friends’ letter in January 1954. In mollifying language, the committee promised to address certain issues informally, but it made no policy reversals.107 Instead, it firmly restated the Academy’s postwar philosophy “of complete artistic freedom,” affirming that fellows were chosen for their capacity for independent work and should be given the liberty to define and pursue their own projects. The committee concluded by addressing Smith and Roberts directly:

We believe that you, Sir, and the Director have brought the Academy to a position of eminence, both here and abroad, unsurpassed since its founding. We believe that this has been accomplished by following, not a restrictive course, but—far more difficult—a course of enlightened artistic liberalism. We believe that this course is wholly consonant with the ideals of the Founders.108

In this battle over defining an “enlightened” and “artistically liberal” academy, Roberts’s position prevailed. The founders’ ideals were interpreted not as a requirement to create a “fair and balanced” institution with guaranteed representation of minority artistic views, but as a commitment to openness and currency. The letter, approved unanimously by the committee, is the last recorded word on the conflict.109 Yet this 1953 battle to define the Academy’s character provided the backdrop against which Roberts unsuccessfully pursued architecture residents for the next three years, from 1954 to 1957.


The year following this incident, 1954–55, would be the first of three with no official architect in residence at the Academy, although during that first year there was an unofficial Italian resident, Milan architect Ernesto Nathan Rogers of the firm BBPR. In this period, Robert Venturi held a two-year fellowship, during which he and the other architecture fellows interacted closely with Rogers during his multiple trips to the Academy in 1954–55. Venturi wrote enthusiastically about Rogers, who directly influenced his thinking.110 The other architecture fellows also praised him highly in their renewal requests.111

In a letter to Smith, Roberts credited the architecture fellows with the idea to invite Rogers.112 Later, when confirming Rogers would come in January, Roberts added, “Rogers is, as you know, about the most respected architect in Italy by the younger generation,” a tacit contrast with Toombs’s comparative obscurity.113 Roberts later reported that Rogers had “supervised a collaborative project for the fine arts fellows,” proposing use of the Academy’s garden for additional studios (Figures 16 and 17).114 Since the Fine Arts Committee’s response to the attempted counterreformation included a promise to “encourage and foster” collaborative work, this might have been a calculated suggestion from Roberts.

Figure 16

Fellows’ work (project by Robert Venturi visible at center rear), Annual Exhibition, American Academy in Rome, 1955 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 16

Fellows’ work (project by Robert Venturi visible at center rear), Annual Exhibition, American Academy in Rome, 1955 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 17

Robert Venturi, model, project for new studios in the American Academy garden, Rome, 1955 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 17

Robert Venturi, model, project for new studios in the American Academy garden, Rome, 1955 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Roberts may have considered Rogers’s unofficial presence to be sufficient for 1954–55 (much like Howe’s final “year”), but the records are silent as to why no American architect was in residence that year. They do, however, show that the following year Roberts actively sought an American architect of international stature. A March 1956 letter from Venturi disclosed Roberts’s intentions:

Dear Lou:

The many of us here who know you were very sorry to find on Lawrence’s [sic] return from New York early this month that you (and no other architect for that matter) had not been invited here by the Academy for a period this spring, after Eero’s last minit [sic] notice that he would not come.115

“Lou” is certainly Kahn. “Eero” could only be Eero Saarinen. Two months earlier, Venturi had told his parents: “We still don’t know who the visiting architect will be here this spring. Ernesto Rogers should be stopping in from Milan, but he has been ill. It might be Eero Saarinen or Lou Kahn. I am (discreetly) rooting for the latter.”116

Ever since Saarinen made a brief Academy visit in 1951, Roberts had promoted him for a residency. He reported to Smith Saarinen’s ability “to generate such real enthusiasm and excitement among the Fellows, both new and old,” and his “most telling way of pointing out what lessons [Rome’s monuments] had for a present day architect.”117 Smith agreed that Saarinen should be added to the list of potential residents.118

Saarinen apparently agreed to come during 1955–56, then backed out. Fellow Warren Platner, who (like Venturi) worked for Saarinen before receiving the Rome Prize, wrote to him from the Academy: “Laurance Roberts has, I think, just written to you about your coming here this spring. As you requested, I mentioned to him some time ago that I thought there might be a possibility that you could not come and I think that is the reason for his letter to you now as he is making final plans for the rest of the year.” Platner expressed his hope that Saarinen still might come, adding, “I think you would find [the fellows] interesting as they are quite a mixed group but are constantly exchanging ideas. Incidentally, one of the sculptors here (Hadzi) is about to exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in April I beleive [sic]; his work is quite mature and he is full of ideas.”119 Platner implied a stay would be creatively stimulating for Saarinen, and therefore worth the increasingly valuable time of one of America’s best-known architects, who appeared on Time magazine’s cover that summer.120

Saarinen was already planning to travel to London to work on his recently won U.S. embassy project. But his reply to Platner was noncommittal about the Academy, a topic that was clearly less of a priority for him than his wife Aline’s planned visit to critic Bernard Berenson in Florence.121 The Saarinens went to Italy during the summer of 1956, but not to Rome, no doubt to Roberts’s great disappointment. Furthermore, that fall Roberts’s efforts to secure noted critic Lewis Mumford as a resident for 1956–57 fell through when Mumford canceled a planned winter stay for family reasons. While Mumford suggested that he “might briefly [be] in Rome in the Spring,” Roberts described himself as “distressed about this as everyone is looking forward to seeing him here, and as I have counted on his being at the Academy.”122 Mumford traveled extensively in Italy during the summer of 1957, including a stay in Rome, but he did not go to the Academy until the late 1960s.123

For architects during the postwar building boom, a few months in Rome offered little direct benefit to their careers.124 The Academy, shed of many conservative associations, had become a more vital, well-connected place, but it remained peripheral to architecture’s emerging modernist establishment in the mid-1950s, and its aura was insufficient to draw Saarinen from Tuscany, or Mumford from the other side of Rome. It is not clear why Kahn, despite his creatively fruitful sabbatical, did not return in 1956 as Venturi had hoped.125 Kahn’s accelerating practice may have been a factor, or Roberts may not have been allowed to invite him. Kahn’s archive contains no record of Academy invitations or other contact from the time of his one stint on the 1952 Rome Prize jury until 1959. While Kahn’s modernism may have still been an issue, his foreign birth, Jewish background, and unpolished persona probably made him less attractive than the patrician Howe to some members of the Academy community. His renewed welcome in 1959, which included speaking at the annual alumni gathering that year, frequent invitations to his top employees to apply for fellowships, and an open invitation to stay at the Academy whenever he wished, reflects both how advantageous his soaring reputation made the association and how the Academy community was evolving, with the old guard gradually being supplanted by a new generation.126

End of an Era

The Academy’s long drought in architecture residencies ended in 1957–58 with the appointment of Princeton architecture professor and lithographer Francis Comstock.127 Whatever Comstock’s virtues as a resident, his architectural reputation was limited, another defeat for Roberts and his quest to bring architects of national standing to the Academy. After winning his 1953 battle with the “friends,” Roberts aimed high. It is possible that Saarinen initially agreed to come for 1954–55, then postponed. Roberts then arranged for Rogers’s “backdoor” residency rather than call on Toombs or anyone else connected to the board. In 1956, when Saarinen backed out and the trustees refused to support Kahn, Roberts decided to stand on principle and accept an architect-free year. Small wonder he was “distressed” at Mumford’s cancellation for the year following; he may have been too discouraged to arrange for a substitute. Three years after a seemingly decisive victory in the battle over the Academy’s soul, Roberts was losing the war.

Comstock’s successor in 1958 was Nathaniel Owings, founding partner of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)—quite prominent professionally, if not a star designer like Saarinen. But Roberts did not arrange this residency: Owings was invited by Michael Rapuano, Owings’s former Cornell classmate and the Academy’s new president.128 In 1958, Smith retired from the presidencies of both the Academy and McKim, Mead and White; the latter presidency passed to Walker Cain.129 The following summer, Roberts announced his resignation. Rapuano was one of the “friends” who had tried to roll back the postwar policy changes. In 1957, trustee and Roberts supporter Francis Henry Taylor described the board as “a sounding board for the airing of grievances, many of them imaginary and some of them, unfortunately, the result of personal vendettas and petty jealousies and disappointments.”130 Three years after the attempted counterreformation was defeated, some trustees were still grumbling. In 1953, before that outcome was certain, Isabel Roberts recounted a conversation between Laurance and Taylor, “who feels that it will be a tough struggle with the great reactionary boys but that they—L.’s side—will win. But we must remember who signed the C. Com. recommendations: Faulkner, Waugh, Rapuano, Moore, Gugler.”131

Certain Academy traditions returned under Rapuano. The next director, Richard Kimball (1960–65), was an architect; although not an alumnus, he was the professional partner of one of the “reactionary boys,” trustee Eric Gugler.132 The uninterrupted sequence of 1960s architecture residents included Edward Durrell Stone (1960), Max Abramovitz (1961), and Edward Larrabee Barnes (1967). Two more obscure figures—Roy Larson (1962) and James Hunter (1963)—had powerful behind-the-scenes roles: Hunter was chair of the AIA’s Committee on the Profession, and Larson was an adviser to the State Department’s influential embassy building program.133 By then, modern architecture had become America’s official design language. A collaborative project, produced during Comstock’s residency, audaciously inserted a pavilion in New Formalist style in Rome’s Piazza Colonna, next to the Column of Marcus Aurelius and facing the Palazzo Chigi, residence of Italy’s prime minister—an intrusion suggesting a specifically Cold War form of American cultural hubris (Figure 18).

Figure 18

“Proposed Development of Piazza Colonna, Rome” (United States Information Agency), Collaborative Problem, 1958 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

Figure 18

“Proposed Development of Piazza Colonna, Rome” (United States Information Agency), Collaborative Problem, 1958 (American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive).

After Roberts’s departure the American Academy arguably continued in the progressive direction he had established in many crucial ways. The Rome Prize continued to provide fine arts fellows with complete creative freedom, even as uncertainty about this “liberal” approach continued into the 1970s.134 Residencies by famous architects were only rarely interspersed with those by insiders.135 The clearest example is Venturi’s return as a resident in 1966, just before the appearance of his epochal book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and his first, momentous trip to Las Vegas with Denise Scott Brown. When Robert Venturi accepted the Pritzker Prize in 1991, he credited the career-shaping influence of “the American Academy in Rome, where as a Fellow within its community, headed by its easy and hospitable hosts, the director and his spouse, Laurance and Isabel Roberts, and by means of its location, I might exist every day in architectural heaven” (Figure 19).136

Figure 19

Robert Venturi in Piazza Navona, Rome, ca. 1956 (photo by James A. Gresham; Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown).

Figure 19

Robert Venturi in Piazza Navona, Rome, ca. 1956 (photo by James A. Gresham; Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown).

Venturi’s fellowship and Louis Kahn’s residency inserted the postwar Academy securely into histories of twentieth-century architecture. Venturi’s career, even more than Kahn’s, would provide ex post facto validation for Roberts’s experiment and inaugurate another new era at the Academy—one in which its architectural relevance was more secure and a journey to Rome was no longer viewed as a professional detour, but rather as a pathway to success.

In their thirteen years at the Academy the Robertses defined its new tone, a contribution made obvious by how many members of the Academy community felt indebted to them.137 They received an outpouring of tributes when Laurance announced his planned resignation in 1959. More than two hundred letters, preserved in the archive of the Robertses’ papers, expressed dismay and described Roberts’s tenure in glowing terms: “Many of us came to the conclusion that you were quite close to a perfect Director for the American Academy”; “It was your presence, seen and unseen, that made the Academy such a great place to come back to”; and “Only those who have known the Academy over the years can quite appreciate what you have done, and how wholesome and encouraging the change of climate was, intellectually speaking, which you brought about.”138 One lamented: “I cannot visualize the Academy without you. I fear a Dark Age will descend.”139 Robert Venturi wrote that it was “as if the Piazza Navona itself were to disappear, and you know my regard for that piazza.”140

One poignant tribute came from the Academy’s notoriously underpaid staff in Rome. They contributed funds to have a gold medallion created, which they presented with a statement describing their “gratitude and affection” and recognizing the Robertses’ “distinction and courtesy.”141 But the Robertses also had critics, and not only among conservative alumni. Their reign at the Villa Aurelia could be perceived as one in which an exclusive court did not extend benefits equally to all members of the Academy’s small, often fractured community (Figure 20). The personal nature of this affection and respect was also a clear institutional threat. If loyalty belonged to the “Roberts Academy” rather than to the Academy per se, what would follow the Robertses’ departure? Continuity demanded clarity about what, besides Rome itself, could and should persist at the Academy.

Figure 20

View of Villa Aurelia from an American Academy studio, ca. 1949 (photo by David L. Leavitt; David L. Leavitt Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

Figure 20

View of Villa Aurelia from an American Academy studio, ca. 1949 (photo by David L. Leavitt; David L. Leavitt Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania).

One constant was the Academy’s intentionally elitist mission. The Rome Prize was established to help American architects, artists, and scholars compete and win on a global stage.142 After 1946 the cultural arena remained just as competitive, but, as Yegül notes, professing faith in an eternal, globally paramount tradition became untenable after the fall of fascism.143 The Robertses’ “enlightened liberalism” reflected the values of a cultivated U.S. midcentury intelligentsia and differed substantially from the Gilded Age elitism out of which the Academy was born. But it continued the Academy’s basic mission, as one elite supplanted another. The postwar Rome Prize, still a mechanism designed to cultivate future U.S. artistic and intellectual leaders, remained inextricable from the nation’s institutional apparatus of cultural prestige and continued to privilege a northeastern, Ivy League–based elite.144

Many of those same institutions actively redefined cultural quality in more progressive terms. Such associations—particularly with the GSD, Yale, and MIT—augmented by Roberts’s pursuit of successful modernists, helped the postwar Rome Prize retain architectural prestige when this might have vanished entirely because of its Beaux-Arts heritage, uncertain relevance to modernist artistic primacy, and the limited productivity of many fellows. Roberts presciently began aligning the Academy with the future direction of a shifting American artistic trajectory in 1947, even as powerful decision makers in U.S. government and business remained uncertain about modernism.145

The Roberts legacy includes goals toward which any truly “liberal academy” might progress: engagement with a complex, conflicted reality; pursuit of any promising idea; and support for the conviction that when artists and thinkers confront a stimulating, highly charged cultural context together, the process will pay off for both. Roberts may have even influenced President Smith’s stubborn “hope that if we can get the most exciting talent here, something will happen to them that will be all for the best.”146 The Roberts era at the American Academy in Rome was notable for the director’s relative autonomy in relation to the New York administration, aided by his cooperative alliance with President Smith. As the letters of farewell attest, Roberts used his authority to empower each generation of artists and scholars to make the best of the opportunities offered by their time in Rome. “His” Academy was really their own.



I wish to gratefully acknowledge Patricia Morton, Fikret Yegül, Katherine Geffcken, and Charles Brickbauer, whose thoughtful suggestions greatly improved this article. Lavinia Ciuffa and the American Academy’s Photographic Archive, William Whitaker at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilaria Della Monica of the Biblioteca Berenson at the Villa I Tatti, and Mark Swope of the Swope Trust provided invaluable research assistance and image permissions. Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Craig Zabel and Brian Curran for their helpful input on this project.


Fikret K. Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding: Architecture at the American Academy in Rome, 1894–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).


Ibid., 119.


Report from Board of Trustees meeting, 24 Apr. 1945, Reel 5760: 15, American Academy in Rome Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (hereafter AAR Records, AAA). Classicist and trustee William Dinsmoor officially held this position from July 1944 to June 1945, but the State Department did not permit him to go to Rome during World War II. Lucia Valentine and Alan Valentine, The American Academy in Rome, 1894–1969 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1973), 104–6.


Morey (1877–1955) held his State Department position until 1950; his duties included helping to negotiate the return of works of art and research libraries displaced by the war.


On the Academy’s wartime history, see Valentine and Valentine, American Academy. While the Academy’s facilities had been spared major damage, reopening was still a daunting task: “When they arrived in Rome in December 1946, the Robertses found the Academy building barely habitable, with a portiere and cook but without heat, hot water, or usable furnishings, and with a U.S. Army mess in residence. The Villa Aurelia was near-derelict.” Charles Brickbauer, tribute in event program, “A Celebration of the Year of the Humanities: Art History, Classics, History and Literature,” 12 Oct. 1992, AAR Correspondence 1990–93, “The Year of the Humanities,” Laurance and Isabel Roberts Papers 1910–2005, Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies, Florence (hereafter Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson).


Morey had also been a fellow from 1900 to 1903 at the School of Classical Studies, which joined the Academy in 1913 (see note 12).


See Yegül’s account of this incident in Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 82–84.


Henri Marceau to James K. Smith, 24 Sept. 1937, Reel 5758: 1196–1202, AAR Records, AAA. When the two met in 1935 to discuss Marceau’s possibly taking the position of assistant director in Rome, they also discussed artistic reforms at the Academy.


The recommendations read as follows: “(1) Admission of married men to the fellowships provided the wife is not dependent upon her husband’s stipend for support, thereby depriving him of money intended for his education. (2) Admission of women to the scholarships. Married women to be admitted under the same conditions as married men. (3) American artists in Residence. European artists to be invited for short periods. (4) Length of Fellowship two years with a possible third. (5) Selection for director of a young energetic layman with an understanding of scholarship and the fine arts, who by air-transportation can divide his time between Rome and America and direct our activities in both countries.” “Report of the Committee on School of Fine Arts,” 8 Nov. 1945, Reel 5752: 987–88, AAR Records, AAA.




On the early history of the American Academy, see Valentine and Valentine, American Academy; Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding; Mary N. Woods, “Charles Follen McKim and the Foundation of the American Academy in Rome,” in Light on the Eternal City: Observations and Discoveries in the Art and Architecture of Rome, ed. Hellmut Hager and Susan Scott Munshower (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987).


Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 61–62.


One architect-director from 1917 to 1932, Gorham P. Stevens, combined competencies. He was also a highly informed classical scholar and led the American School of Classical Studies in Athens from 1939 to 1947.


Lawrence Richardson notes how actively the Robertses participated in “the life of Rome, art exhibits, concerts, receptions, dinner parties, and the theater… . The Roberts always seemed to be abreast of the life of the city and the rest of Italy. If there were a notable exhibit in Florence or Venice, the Roberts would be sure to see it.” Lawrence Richardson Jr., The American Academy 1947–54, Reopening and Reorientation: A Personal Reminiscence (Rome: American Academy in Rome, 2012), 68.


Roberts claimed that he and Smith never discussed the Academy during their war service together. Jewell Fenzi, “An Interview with Laurance and Isabel Roberts, 1995,” 7, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 108. Approval for a second fellowship year was not uncommon, and arts fellows with outside support, such as Fulbright or other fellowships, could stay as long as three years. On foreign artists at the Academy, see note 62 below.


After the first year, families with children were housed outside the collegial Main Building.


The first female fellow at the ASCSR was Mabel Douglas Reid of 1901, and other women came earlier as students. America’s most renowned classicists include many women who participated in the ASCSR and the Academy: Esther B. Van Deman (student of the ASCSR 1901, Fellow of the ASCSR 1909), Lily Ross Taylor (student of the ASCSR 1909, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome [FAAR] 1918), Marion Elizabeth Blake (FAAR 1925), and Inez Scott Ryberg (FAAR 1926) are only a few. See Katherine Geffcken’s contributions to Karen Einaudi, ed., Esther B. Van Deman: Images from the Archive of an American Archaeologist in Italy at the Turn of the Century (Rome: American Academy in Rome, 1991).


Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 66. Director Carter asked the trustees for more equitable space provisions and fine arts fellowships for women but was refused. On gender issues at the ASCSR and the early Academy, see Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 17–21.


Alumni were welcome to reside at the Academy if accommodations were available, but restricted space meant this was almost never the case for women, while their male counterparts were seldom turned away. “Report of the Committee on the Welfare of Women Students at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome,” Dec. 1939, Reel 5752: 880, AAR Records, AAA. This report suggested several ways to improve the situation, but it was not submitted until just before the Academy’s wartime closure.


The women’s dining room, described as a “dark, unattractive room on the court,” now houses the Academy’s bar. Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 234n8.


Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 108. The first woman to receive an arts fellowship was sculptor Concetta Scaravaglione (FAAR 1947). Those in other fields were architect Astra Zarina (FAAR 1960), painter Marjorie Kreilick (FAAR 1963), composer Barbara Ann Kolb (FAAR 1971), and landscape architect Joanna Dougherty (FAAR 1986). The first woman appointed to the Academy Board of Trustees was Phyllis W. G. Gordan in 1971.


J. K. Smith, “To the Advisory Council and friends of AAR,” report, 28 Jan. 1946, Reel 5759: 212–15, AAR Records, AAA.


Meriwether Stuart to L. Roberts, 14 June 1946, Reel 5787: 1577, AAR Records, AAA.


Francis Henry Taylor wrote to the trustees: “At the end of the War there were many thoughtful persons who questioned whether or not the Academy should be revived except as a research institute for archaeology and the history of art.” F. H. Taylor to Trustees of the American Academy in Rome, n.d. (copy to I. Roberts, 18 May 1957), AAR Correspondence 1956–64, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


The art history fellowship, first awarded in 1947, had been proposed by Chester Aldrich in the 1930s. Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 114. Medieval art historians like Morey came under the aegis of classical studies before the war, but after the war postclassical researchers were part of the School of Fine Arts.


Among the Academy’s fine arts disciplines, musical composition—an artistic field in which work was least subject to Rome-based stylistic or historic limits—had remained consistently successful. “If a list were to be composed of the compositions played for the first time by American symphony orchestras in the last ten years, it is a modest guess that at least 75% of the composers would be found to have been guests of the Academy at some time.” Agnes Mongan and twenty-two cosigners to Board of Trustees, 17 Dec. 1959, Correspondence 1959 Re: Resignation from AAR (hereafter Resignation Correspondence), Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson (uncredited quote in Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 118).


Composer Ulysses Kay won the Rome Prize in 1949 and a Fulbright grant in 1950; he resided at the Academy from 1949 to 1952. Sculptor John Rhoden first came to the Academy in 1951 as a Fulbright scholar and remained as a Rome Prize fellow from 1952 to 1954. Classicist Philip Wooby came under a Rome Prize from 1952 to 1954. Roberts mentioned Rhoden’s and Wooby’s race in letters to Smith, 6 and 16 Feb. 1951, Reel 5759: 994–96, AAR Records, AAA. Novelist Ralph Ellison would come as a fellow in literature in 1957. On anti-Semitism at the early Academy, see Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 33–34.


According to Spero Daltas (FAAR 1949), a design competition was again used in 1949; the competition was won by Daltas and Dale Claude Byrd (FAAR 1949). Spero Daltas, personal communication with author, 24 April and 1 and 5 May 2007. David Leavitt’s (FAAR 1950–51) unsuccessful competition entry is held with his papers at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. Finalists were still invited to New York for interviews, a practice that continues to this day.


The Robertses personally covered the additional costs of events that exceeded the official budget and purchased many furnishings for the Villa Aurelia after the war, many of which stayed behind when they left. See L. Roberts to Michael Rapuano, 15 Apr. 1959, AAR Correspondence 1956–64, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson. Isabel Roberts’s detailed records of events, including seating charts for meals, show her efforts to ensure that guests at smaller events sat near those with whom conversation would be enjoyable and profitable.


Arthur Deam to J. K. Smith, 1 Apr. 1947, Reel 5758: 1155, AAR Records, AAA. World War II fellowships supported domestic study. Benjamin G. Kohl, Wayne A. Linker, and Buff Suzanne Kavelman, eds., The Centennial Directory of the American Academy in Rome (New York: American Academy in Rome, 1995), 371.


J. K. Smith to A. Deam, 2 Apr. 1947, Reel 5758: 1156, AAR Records, AAA.


Thirty Rome Prizes in architecture were awarded from 1894 through 1940 (plus one erased by damnatio memoriae). Kohl et al., Centennial Directory; Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding.


“American Academy in Rome,” Landscape Architecture 36 ( July 1946), 159–60; and the similar (but not identical) “The American Academy in Rome,” Journal of the American Institute of Architects, Aug. 1946, 74–75.


In mid-April, Howe wrote, “I am sorry to hear the [Rome Prize] judgment has been postponed, but if there are as yet an insufficient number of submissions, it is probably as well.” George Howe to Laurance Roberts, 16 Apr. 1947, George Howe Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings and Archives, Columbia University, New York (hereafter Howe Collection, Avery Archives). Howe advised architect James Lamantia to apply for a fellowship that first year, although he did not receive one until the following year. James Lamantia, interview by author, 24 May 2006.


Olindo Grossi to trustee Eric Gugler, 8 Jan. 1945, cited by Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 120.


The medieval era had been considered unsuitable for artistic emulation, and the baroque was a forbidden style before the war. See Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 5760.


Frank E. Brown of Yale was professor in charge of the Classical School from 1947 to 1952, during which time he supervised the archaeological excavations at Cosa in central Italy, succeeded by Lily Ross Taylor (1952–55), Mason Hammond (1955–57), and Herbert Bloch (1957–79). Kohl et al., Centennial Directory, 385. The precise numbers of pre- and postdoctoral fellows in classical studies could vary from year to year, but the intent to support scholars at different points in their careers was consistent. I thank Katherine Geffcken (FAAR classical studies 1955) for her clarification on this point.


Taylor to Trustees of the American Academy in Rome, n.d. (copy to I. Roberts, 18 May 1957).


Mongan and twenty-two cosigners to Board of Trustees, 17 Dec. 1959.


Sylvia Wright, “Rome’s Most Favored Tourists,” Reporter, 12 July 1956, 41.


Yegül describes the Academy’s most ardent interwar advocates as “priests of a mystery cult whose high altar lay in front of the Villa Aurelia.” Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 31.


Ian Lowe, “Obituary: Laurance Roberts,” Independent (London), 15 Mar. 2002.


Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture (Paris: Crès, 1923).


This visit took place on 14 February 1947. L. Roberts to J. Hudnut, 5 Feb. 1947, Reel 5798: 1389; and J. Hudnut to L. Roberts, 6 Feb. 1947, Reel 5798: 1395, AAR Records, AAA.


The GSD graduates who received the fellowships were Frederic Coolidge and Charles Wiley, 1947; James Lamantia, 1948; and Dale Byrd, 1949. Kohl et al., Centennial Directory.


In addition to earning one-third of all prewar Rome Prize fellowships in architecture, Columbia students accounted for another thirteen who went to the Academy on McKim scholarships from 1911 through 1927. Ibid., 373. The McKim scholarship continues at Columbia as a travel award.


Seven other architecture fellowships were awarded during this period, with two going to graduates of Cornell and one each to graduates of the Pratt Institute, the University of Oklahoma, Cranbrook Academy of Art, the University of Illinois, and North Carolina State University. Denise R. Costanzo, “The Lessons of Rome: Architects at the American Academy, 1947–66” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2009).


Denise R. Costanzo, “Architectural Amnesia: George Howe, Mario De Renzi, and the U.S. Consulate in Naples,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 56/57 (2011/2012), 353–89.


Frederic Coolidge to Mary T. Williams, 28 May 1947, Fellows Files: Coolidge, Frederic S., 1947–1948, American Academy in Rome Archives, New York. Roberts could influence Rome Prize awards only indirectly, through appointments to the selection jury, but these could strongly shape the jury’s leanings.


The other fine arts fields were landscape architecture, painting, sculpture, and musical composition. Arts fellowships in literature began in 1950–51, administered by the National Academy of Letters. Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 114. Before World War II, art historians came to the Academy within the School of Classical Studies, whose definition could be stretched to include the early medieval era.


The first nonarchitect to become president was landscape architect Michael Rapuano, a trustee from 1947 to 1974, who served as president from 1958 to 1969. Kohl et al., Centennial Directory. For fifty-eight of the Academy’s first sixty-four years its president also led McKim, Mead and White: Charles F. McKim, 1894–1909; William Rutherford Mead, 1910–28; James K. Smith, 1938–58. Yegül calls the Academy an “extension” of this firm. Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 118–19.


The other board members were businessmen, lawyers, and other professionals. There were a handful of art historians and arts administrators as well, whose interests could lie with either “half ” of the Academy. I determined the board’s makeup in 1947 using information in Kohl et al., Centennial Directory.


As an art history student at Vassar, Isabel Roberts specialized in architecture, so her husband’s efforts may have reflected her own continuing interest in the discipline. Fenzi, “Interview with Laurance and Isabel Roberts,” 57.


Laurance Roberts to George Howe, 4 Mar. 1947, Howe Collection, Avery Archives.


Laurance Roberts to George Howe, 17 Mar. 1947, Howe Collection, Avery Archives.


The exhibition catalog was Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Philip Johnson, and Alfred H. Barr Jr., Modern Architecture: International Exhibition (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1932); see also Hitchcock and Johnson’s The International Style: Architecture since 1922 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1932). On Howe’s career, see Robert A. M. Stern, George Howe: Toward a Modern American Architecture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975).


During the war he occupied the federal government’s highest architectural post, which “established Howe as a leading spokesman for American architecture and a leading force in the reconciliation between the seemingly conflicting beliefs of modernist architects, still in the minority, and the profession at large.” Howe began as a consultant to the Public Buildings Administration in Washington, D.C., in 1941 and was appointed to the Federal Works Agency in 1942. Stern, George Howe, 198–208.


This was also a point Howe had in common with Roberts. Howe’s mother came from a prominent Philadelphia family and was born and educated in France; Howe was educated in Switzerland and at Groton. Ibid., 3. Bruno Zevi often described Howe as “aristocratic.” See Bruno Zevi, “George Howe,” Metron 25 (1948), 10–11; and his obituary, Bruno Zevi, “George Howe: An Aristocratic Architect,” Journal of the American Institute of Architects, Oct. 1955, 176–79. For the Johnson quote, see Philip Johnson, The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews by Robert A. M. Stern (New York: Monacelli Press, 2008), 47.


The architects on the board in 1947 were Everett V. Meeks (dean at Yale 1922–47), William Platt, Eric Gugler (White House architect during the 1930s–40s), George S. Koyl (dean at the University of Pennsylvania, who continued its Beaux-Arts methodology until 1950), Henry R. Shepley (1887–1962, partner in the Boston firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbot, and successor to H. H. Richardson’s practice), and J. K. Smith.


The Fine Arts Committee’s 1945 request to include European artists in residence was not granted until architects Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz “established a fund to relieve the Academy of the expense for the foreign artists-in-residence” around 1960. Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 110–11.


Howe was supervising architect for the Public Buildings Administration from February 1942 to 14 September 1945. See Stern, George Howe, 198, 209, 251.


In a Rome Prize announcement in the April 1948 Journal of the American Institute of Architects, the Academy mentioned that “George Howe, who left for Rome on March sixteenth” was on his way (158). Howe’s residency was delayed six months because of complications in reconciling it with the St. Louis competition schedule.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 7 June 1948, Reel 5759: 938–39, AAR Records, AAA.


On Howe’s residency and this project, see Costanzo, “Architectural Amnesia.” Lawrence Richardson identifies John Bayley as Howe’s assistant on this project. See Richardson, American Academy, 57.


Neil Levine, “Architecture between Need and Desire: Louis Kahn, Rome, the Ruin, and the Unfinished” (paper delivered at the conference “Rome as a Generating Image of American Architecture,” American Academy in Rome, Jan. 1996), 1; a copy of this essay is held in the American Academy of Rome Archives, New York. This effect would have been strongest once Kahn’s reputation began its ascent in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Academy’s postwar reputation had already solidified.


Johnson wrote: “George [Howe] says that you might like to go to Rome next winter… . I feel quite sure that this could be arranged and would be delighted to recommend you. It rather looks as if I would be in Rome some time next winter and we could have fun.” Philip Johnson to Louis I. Kahn, 27 Mar. 1947, Louis I. Kahn Collection (hereafter Kahn Collection), University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (hereafter AAUP). Howe wrote to Kahn twice in the next two weeks encouraging Kahn to persist and, like Johnson, claiming he could guarantee the results: “I do think we can have fun together in Rome and as I am a member of the Jury of Selection, I ought to be able to cook up this dish to our mutual satisfaction.” George Howe to Louis Kahn, 31 Mar. and 10 Apr. 1947, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Michael Rapuano to Louis Kahn, 28 May 1947, Kahn Collection, AAUP. According to Howe, architect and trustee Charles Platt (“whom I don’t particularly like”) blocked Kahn’s application. G. Howe to L. Kahn, 10 June 1947, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Scaravaglione had taught at Sarah Lawrence, Black Mountain, and other colleges since 1925, and her work was widely published in arts journals in the 1930s and 1940s. By 1947 Kahn had built only a few minor projects, and he did not begin to teach at Yale until the fall of that year. Kahn’s professional visibility was due primarily to his published essays on housing, urban planning, and “monumentality,” his leadership of the American Society of Architects and Planners, and his association with the more famous Howe. See the bibliography of Kahn’s published writings by David B. Brownlee, Shilpa Mehta, and Peter S. Reed in David B. Brownlee and David G. De Long, Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1991), 433–39.


“First Woman Wins Prix de Rome,” Art News 46 ( June 1947), 60; “Rome Fellowships,” Art Digest 22 (15 Apr. 1948), 13; “Rome Fellowships, 1947,” College Art Journal 7, no. 1 (Autumn 1947), 60; “Rome Fellowship,” Architectural Record 102 (Aug. 1947), 128.


Rapuano to Kahn, 28 May 1947.


Louis Kahn to George Howe, 13 June 1947, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


George Howe to Louis Kahn, 18 June 1947; and George Howe to Laurance Roberts, 18 June 1947, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Mary T. Williams to Louis Kahn, 1 Dec. 1949, Kahn Collection, AAUP. A Fulbright provided from $3,500 to $6,000 in support (“depending on the number of one’s dependents, length of time spent in Italy, etc.”) plus passage by ocean liner.


On external fellowships and postwar finances, see Valentine and Valentine, American Academy, 112–16.


By 1951–52, the number dropped to 9 of 145, with far fewer thereafter. Archives of the U.S.-Italy Fulbright Commission, Rome. The Academy actively supported the Fulbright Bill and worked to ensure it could be a host institution for U.S. scholars abroad. See J. K. Smith to Senator Fulbright, 25 June 1946, and Fulbright to Smith, 27 June 1946, Reel 5759: 516–17; L. Roberts to R. Morey, 18 Dec. 1947, Reel 5798: 1466–67; and L. Roberts to IIE, 16 Jan. 1948, Reel 5798: 1468–69, AAR Records, AAA.


M. Williams to L. Kahn, 4 Jan. 1950, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Kahn had a reservation on the Saturnalia for 21 September, which he later canceled. L. Kahn to M. Williams, 19 Apr. 1950; M. Williams to L. Kahn, 30 Mar. and 21 Nov. 1950, Kahn Collection, AAUP. The receipt for Kahn’s TWA flight to Rome departing on 30 November is held in the Kahn Collection, AAUP. Kahn wrote a letter to the Academy fellows from “on board ship” on 1 March 1951. A letter of 21 February 1951 from his partner Kenneth Day states that Kahn was scheduled to sail on the SS Isle de France from Le Havre on 27 February 1951. Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Laurance Roberts to Louis Kahn, 31 July 1951, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


American Academy in Rome Annual Report, 1950–51, American Academy in Rome Archives, New York.


Woodbridge later served as Columbia University’s consulting architect, on New York’s Art Commission, and on the New York Landmarks Commission; see obituary in New York Times, 18 Jan. 1974. He published his only essay, “Beauty and the Urban Beast,” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 30 ( July 1953), 206–7, the year after his return from Rome.


Labatut, director of Princeton’s program from 1928 to 1967, won a second-place Prix de Rome in 1926. But Le Corbusier invited him to lead CIAM in the late 1930s, and he received invitations from Eero Saarinen and Edward Durrell Stone to design light and water displays for prominent projects, all of which he declined. See Costanzo, “Lessons of Rome,” 75–77.


Belluschi was recommended by Michael Rapuano. L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 20 Feb. 1953, Reel 5759: 1048, AAR Records, AAA. He was appointed by President Truman to the National Commission of Fine Arts in 1950, the first of many powerful boards on which he would serve. Meredith Clausen, Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994), viii.


The American Academy in Rome, Fine Arts and Classical Studies: Rome Prize Fellowships, 1954–1955, brochure, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Paul [Manship] to J. K. Smith, 1 Sept. 1950, Reel 5760: 138, AAR Records, AAA.


J. K. Smith to Paul Manship, 7 Sept. 1950, Reel 5760: 141–42, AAR Records, AAA.




Cain would succeed Smith as president of the firm, whose final incarnation was Walker Cain and Associates.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 17 Dec. 1951, Reel 5759: 305, AAR Records, AAA.


J. K. Smith to L. Roberts, 21 Dec. 1951, Reel 5759: 310, AAR Records, AAA. Wallace K. Harrison would be appointed to the Academy’s Board of Trustees in 1959.


Smith was Cain’s boss at McKim, Mead and White, but he tried to remain objective: “It was particularly important to me to try to discount my obvious interest in the man.” Ibid.


J. K. Smith to L. Roberts, 30 Mar. 1953, Reel 5759: 1053, AAR Records, AAA.


The firm would receive American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Awards in 1960, 1967, and 1976 and a Progressive Architecture Award in 1962. The earliest national article on their work is Walter McQuade, “Atlanta’s Arabian Market Place: Lenox Square Regional Shopping Center,” Architectural Forum 111 (Oct. 1959), 120–27. See also “The 1960 Honor Awards,” American Institute of Architects Journal 33 (Apr. 1960), 93; “P/A Ninth Annual Design Awards,” Progressive Architecture 43 ( Jan. 1962), 112–71; “A Stage Is Set for Art,” Architectural Forum 116 (Feb. 1962), 58–61.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 8 Apr. 1953, Reel 5759: 1054, AAR Records, AAA.


Smith and Roberts had known each other since the war, when both worked together in Military Intelligence (see note 16 above), and were close enough to vacation together with their families.


J. K. Smith to L. Roberts, 15 Apr. 1953, Reel 5759: 1056, AAR Records, AAA.


Isabel Roberts’s diary entry for 15 April 1953 reads: “A letter from JK to Laurance which was like a body blow: he speaks of growing opposition from a group of Trustees who believe that L. has ‘been unsympathetic,’ if not actually antagonistic, to certain artistic philosophies represented by these Trustees. We could name them all: Waugh, Gugler, Platt, Faulkner—I am sure. But it is a letter which Jim should never have written: only one step above an anonymous one and a letter no gentleman would have written.” Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


In 1995, Roberts recalled that an Italian magazine at the time featured a lace-edged U.S. flag on its cover. Fenzi, “Interview with Laurance and Isabel Roberts,” 42.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 22 Apr. 1953, Reel 5759: 1057, AAR Records, AAA.


Roberts described the sculpture jury (under Manship) as the least open to modern artists. If funds allowed, he pushed to add a second, more progressive sculptor. Fenzi, “Interview with Laurance and Isabel Roberts,” 46–47.


J. K. Smith to L. Roberts, 5 May 1953, Reel 5759: 1058–59, AAR Records, AAA.


Smith noted apologetically in his reply how “distressed” he was by the tone of his 15 April letter. He wrote it after returning to work after a long illness to find these conflicts on his desk. Ibid.


Smith knew Belluschi would come in the spring, and that Oenslager’s stay was planned for that same period, while Toombs “was more interested in the first half ” of the year. Ibid.


P. Manship, M. Rapuano, W. Hancock, E. Gugler, D. Moore, S. Waugh, B. Faulkner, D. Keller, and W. Platt to J. K. Smith, 29 May 1953, Reel 5758: 1182–83. The letter was forwarded to Roberts in July. M. Rapuano to L. Roberts, 7 July 1953, Reel 5759: 1067. The recommendations were as follows: “(1) That juries be chosen with a view to their experience in monumental and collaborative work. (2) That the maximum age limit be set at 30 years. (3) That the collaborative problem be reinstituted. (4) That Fellowships in Painting and Sculpture be granted for a period of two years, with the option of an extension to a third year. (5) That the competitions in Painting and Sculpture be announced as ‘Competition in Mural Painting’ and ‘Competition in Monumental Sculpture.’ (6) That certain minimum requirements of work other than the collaborative problem be established for Fellows in Painting and Sculpture.” Items 4, 5, and 6 concerned painters and sculptors more than architects, but the first three would have affected architecture directly, and all would have altered the Academy’s artistic culture. The archive includes a summary of a “Rump Session” held 9 April 1953 attended by Hancock, Manship, Platt, Waugh, Gugler, and Rapuano, who met to “review the trend of Painting and Sculpture at the Academy since 1947,” Reel 5758: 1181. This group requested “that a Professor of Fine Arts, to have the same status as a Professor of Classical Studies, be appointed.” The group of authors was characterized as “nine friends” in the January 1954 response, Reel 5759: 351, AAR Records, AAA.


Manship et al. to Smith, 29 May 1953.


The committee called it “ideal” if Rome Prize jury members had experience in “monumental and collaborative work” but affirmed that they simply assessed applicants’ potential to benefit from Rome. Reinstatement of the age limit of thirty was deemed too rigid, but the committee agreed to try to keep the fellows “as young as possible.” The request to reinstitute the required collaborative problem was met with a promise to “encourage and foster” collaborative work without reinstating required projects. Asked to rename painting and sculpture fellowships “Mural Painting” and “Monumental Sculpture,” the committee declared that Rome encouraged these media, but the awards should have no such limits. To the request that painting and sculpture fellows fulfill minimum work requirements, the committee agreed this might be “desirable in certain cases.” M. Rapuano to J. K. Smith, 22 Jan. 1954, Reel 5759: 351, AAR Records, AAA.




Roberts later said that had the policy reversals been enacted, both he and Smith would have resigned. He claimed the committee’s letter was actually drafted by composer Randall Thompson (a fellow of the Academy in 1925 and a resident in 1952), “but it was rather tense.” Fenzi, “Interview with Laurance and Isabel Roberts,” 48.


R. Venturi to Vanna and R. Venturi, 26 Feb. 1955; and Venturi to James K. Smith, 14 Oct. 1956, “Rome: notes: letters,” VSB Collection, AAUP. On the influence of Rogers and other Italian architects on Venturi, see Martino Stierli, “In the Academy’s Garden: Robert Venturi, the Grand Tour, and the Revision of Modern Architecture,” AA Files 56 (2008), 41–62.


C. Brickbauer to L. Roberts, 9 Jan. 1956, Fellows Files: Brickbauer, Charles G., 1955–57; and D. Stewart to L. Roberts, 18 Jan. 1956, Fellows Files: Stewart, Dan R., 1955–57, American Academy in Rome Archives, New York.


“The Fellows in architecture have asked me about the possibility of having some Italian architect, say Ernesto Rogers of Milan, direct them for a month during the winter in a collaborative problem. This, frankly, is exactly what I have been hoping would happen, and I would strongly support them in this general idea as well as the choice of Rogers.” L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 2 Nov. 1954, Reel 5759: 1091, AAR Records, AAA.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 28 Dec. 1954, Reel 5759: 1102, AAR Records, AAA.


American Academy in RomeAnnual Report, 1954–55, 27–28, American Academy in Rome Archives, New York. Venturi’s project has been discussed only as an individual work, not as a collaborative one.


Robert Venturi to Lou [Louis I. Kahn], 28 Mar. 1956, “Rome: notes: letters,” VSB Collection, AAUP. This typescript appears to be a draft of a letter, with handwritten notes in the margins. The phrase “after Eero’s last minit notice that he would not come” has been crossed out by hand.


Robert Venturi to Robert and Vanna Venturi, 22 Jan. 1956, “Rome: notes: letters,” VSB Collection, AAUP. This differs from Venturi’s later recollections. In 2007 he stated, “I know nothing about Eero Saarinen’s planned Academy residency of 1956.” Robert Venturi to author, 30 Mar. 2007. Kahn served on Venturi’s 1950 master’s thesis jury, and Venturi worked for him immediately prior to his 1954 fellowship. He also refused multiple job offers while at the Academy, holding out for the chance to work for Kahn again upon his return from Rome, which he did for seven months. Dianne L. Minnite, “Chronology,” in David B. Brownlee, David G. De Long, and Kathryn B. Hiesinger, Out of the Ordinary: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Associates: Architecture, Urbanism, Design (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001), 247.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 24 Oct. 1951, Reel 5759: 1016, AAR Records, AAA. Roberts mentioned that Saarinen accompanied Woodbridge and the fellows on visits to the nearby villas Lante and Caprarola. His account suggests a clear contrast between the architects’ reactions to Woodbridge and the far more famous, exciting, and stimulating Saarinen.


J. K. Smith to L. Roberts, 20 Nov. 1951, Reel 5759: 299, AAR Records, AAA. Three months later, Saarinen was officially listed on the slate of potential future residents: “The Fine Arts Committee approved adding Eero Saarinen, [and] Pietro Belluschi (this was Mr. Rapuano’s suggestion and meets with my approval) … to the respective panels.” L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 20 Feb. 1952, Reel 5759: 1022, AAR Records, AAA.


Warren [Platner] to Eero Saarinen, 16 Jan. 1956, Eero Saarinen Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.


“Maturing Modern,” Time, 2 July 1956.


“Our itinerary has to remain flexible because Aline’s purpose in going to Florence is to see 81-year old Art Critic Bernard Behrenson [sic], and he may decide to go to Rome or Venice or Tarmina [sic]—in London we will know and wire you word.” Saarinen to Warren [Platner], 22 May 1956, Eero Saarinen Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.


L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 25 Oct. 1956, Reel 5759: 1154, AAR Records, AAA.


Mumford was a visitor to the Academy during 1964–68. Kohl et al., Centennial Directory. According to the Academy’s annual report for 1966–67, he led an Academy seminar in late May 1967, a visit concurrent with his receipt of an honorary degree at the University of Rome. American Academy in RomeAnnual Report, 1966–67, American Academy in Rome Archives, New York. While in Rome in 1957, Mumford and his wife stayed at the top of the Spanish Steps and visited architect Bruno Zevi. See Donald Miller, Lewis Mumford: A Life (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), 459–60.


For Labatut, the Academy may have been a subsidized gateway to Europe; he included visits to his native France during his four residencies. Belluschi visited Rome annually after 1951 to visit his mother; for him, the invitation’s main value was probably as an opportunity to cultivate professional connections. He described the American East Coast architectural establishment as the profession’s “mafia” and may have valued access to the Academy’s network of artists, universities, and cultural, business, and governmental agencies. Pietro Belluschi, interview by Meredith Clausen, 22 and 23 Aug. and 4 Sept. 1983, Oral History Interviews, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Clausen, Pietro Belluschi, 210.


The letter in Venturi’s archive is an unsent draft, with no corresponding version in Kahn’s papers. It is unlikely Roberts would have openly discussed this possibility with the fellows had Kahn not confirmed his availability by phone.


Kahn’s papers include letters from 1959, 1960, 1963, 1964, and 1965 asking him to invite “any outstanding young architects in your office” to apply for the Rome Prize. Kahn served on the Rome Prize juries for 1952 and 1959 and was invited to do so again in 1964. See the list of architecture juries from 1957 to 1974 held by the American Academy in Rome Archives, New York, as well as Mary T. Williams to Kahn, 7 Jan. 1952, 19 Dec. 1958, 12 Mar. 1959, and 7 Jan. 1964; and Louis Kahn to Mary T. Williams, 21 Jan. 1952, Kahn Collection, AAUP. Kahn stayed frequently at the Academy while traveling to and from South Asia, calling it “my inn in Rome.” L. Kahn to R. Kimball, 15 Aug. 1963 and 1 Sept. 1961; and R. Kimball to L. Kahn, 21 Jan. 1965, Kahn Collection, AAUP.


Francis Adams Comstock, A Gothic Vision: F. L. Griggs and His Work (Oxford: Boston Public Library and Ashmolean Museum, 1966). F. L. Griggs’s (1876–1938) etchings depicted British medieval buildings and towns. Comstock had visited the Academy briefly in 1954 and apparently recommended Rogers to Roberts. L. Roberts to J. K. Smith, 29 Nov. 1954, Reel 5759: 1096, AAR Records, AAA.


Nathaniel Owings, The Spaces in Between: An Architect’s Journey (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), 145–46.


By this time, Smith was sixty-five years old and in poor health. He died only three years later, in 1961. He continued to correspond with Roberts until his death.


Taylor to Trustees of the American Academy in Rome, n.d. (copy to I. Roberts, 18 May 1957).


Isabel Roberts, diary entry, 1 Aug. 1953, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


Kimball (1900–1997), a graduate of Yale’s prewar program with a New York–area practice, would direct the Academy until 1965. See his obituary, “Richard Arthur Kimball, Architect, 97,” New York Times, 31 Mar. 1997.


On this program, see Jane Loeffler, The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998).


The Valentines questioned this philosophy in 1973 in American Academy, as did Russell Lynes in 1969 in “After Hours: The Academy That Overlooks Rome,” Harper’s Magazine, May 1969, 28–32.


David Jacob, fellow in architecture 1956–58, returned as a resident on a 1969 Guggenheim Fellowship.


Robert Venturi, “Robert Venturi’s Response at the Pritzker Prize Award Ceremony at the Palacio de Iturbide, Mexico City, May 16, 1991,” in Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: A View from the Drafting Room (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), 99–100.


Richarda Rhoden, wife of 1952 sculpture fellow John Rhoden and among the Academy community’s first African Americans, praised Roberts as “one who has never held himself above any other human being” and thanked him and Isabel for “your graciousness and kindness which you extended on all occasions without fail.” Richarda Rhoden to L. Roberts, 29 Nov. 1959, Resignation Correspondence, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


Howard Hibbard to L. Roberts, 10 Sept. 1959; Berthe Marti to L. and I. Roberts, 16 Dec. 1960; Otto and Maria Brendel to Roberts, Christmas card, n.d., Resignation Correspondence, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


Sahl Swartz to L. and I. Roberts, 18 June 1959, Resignation Correspondence, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


“Janetta” to I. Roberts, n.d.; and Robert Venturi to L. and I. Roberts, 8 June 1959, Resignation Correspondence, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson.


“Al Sig. Direttore Laurance P. Roberts e Gentile Signora Roberts: Noi, dipendenti dell’Accademia Americana, siamo qui riuniti per esprimerle la nostra gratitudine ed il nostro affetto in questo particolare moment in cui Ella lascia la Direzione dell’Accademia Americana. Abbiamo ammirato nella Sua lunga attività presso l’Accademia, la Sua distinzione e la Sua cortesia e vorremmo ora adjunque esternarLe in maniera concreta la nostra riconoscenza. La preghiamo pertanto di voler accettare questa medaglia aurea, contributo di tutto il personale, quale ricordo di tutti noi per Lei e la Sig.ra Roberts e con l’augurio più fervido per il tempo futuro. [signed] Il Personale dell’Accademia Americana in Roma, Roma, 12 Dicembre 1959.” Resignation Correspondence, Roberts Papers, Biblioteca Berenson. The Robertses’ archive does not hold the medallion in question.


A parallel case is found in the postwar Academy’s endeavors in musical composition. These are discussed within the context of Cold War “cultural diplomacy” in Martin Brody, “Class of ’54: Friendship and Ideology at the American Academy in Rome,” in Music and Musical Composition at the American Academy in Rome, ed. Martin Brody (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2014), 222–56.


Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding, 106–7.


A. Richard Williams critiques the Academy’s East Coast allegiances from the perspective of a Chicago-based architect in Sixty Years in Perspective: The American Academy in Rome (Rome: n.p., 1999).


Loeffler, Architecture of Diplomacy; Costanzo, “Architectural Amnesia.”


Smith to Manship, 7 Sept.1950.