The American Academy in Rome: 100 Years of Recognition

Centennials are occasions upon which to reflect and bestow honor. This year the American Society of Landscape Architects marks the centenary of Edward Lawson winning the prestigious Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 1915. Lawson’s fellowship was sponsored by ASLA , and he was the first landscape architect to achieve this honor.

Rome

Lawson posed in his American Red Cross dress uniform in a portrait by Frank Perley Fairbanks. During the war, Lawson remained in Italy and volunteered for the American Red Cross in Italy for which he received praise from ASLA leadership for doing his patriotic duty.

Lawson’s presence at the academy was a coup de main for ASLA, and the nascent profession would now be accorded the same recognition that its “sister” arts – architecture, painting and sculpture – had enjoyed since the academy’s inception in 1897. The new fellowship allowed this emerging landscape talent to join the collaborative dialogue that was shaping urban design, and visionary ASLA leaders like Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and Ferruccio Vitale had made it possible.

Lawson’s tenure at the academy was a success. During his fellowship, he documented the iconic gardens and villas of the Italian Renaissance, taking over 600 photographs and producing scores of sketches, measured drawings, and masterfully rendered watercolors for academy exhibitions – performing this task while the First World War raged around him. This essential database and visual record was used by a generation of students at the academy and at Cornell University.

At his zenith, Lawson was lauded by ASLA leadership as “Our first Fellow” for his pioneering work and efforts in shaping the profession. As a Cornell professor from 1922 to 1943, Lawson mentored the next generation of landscape architects, including eight students who won the Rome Prize and studied at the academy. A century later, this historic anniversary and ASLA’s vision merit recognition and celebration.

Contributed by James O’Day, ASLA

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