FOOD FOR THOUGHT: SUSTENANCE AND SYMBOLISM
Masterplans have a shelf-life of fifteen to twenty years at the most before they need to be revisited. Times change, people change, the world changes, and goals that were paramount at the inception of a plan may be of greater or lesser importance this day. In the present day, a vision of the future is constantly changing, and any plan must offer flexibility and adaptability to be relevant – a static vision is never relevant for long.
The American Academy in Rome is an embassy of knowledge – an institution dedicated to the creation and dissemination of new thinking – American thinking – and like political embassies in foreign lands where the ground upon which they sit is U.S. soil, so too the American Academy in Rome should have a landscape that represents the best of American ideals. It should not only foster the creative process, allowing those in attendance to undertake their greatest work, it should be representative of the best of current and progressive sustainable practices and be a model institution among those here in Rome and other locales. The best landscape framework should holistically support the enterprise of this prestigious institution in a manner that allows it to be perpetually relevant - the model Academy.
The conditions of the world are changing rapidly and resources are increasingly scarce and of greater expense. Labor costs are never declining. What if there was a new equation for the Academy’s landscape?
SUM (reduce or maintain labor expense + reduce water use + reduce energy use) = greater productivity
The practical goals of any institution’s landscape should be balanced with the message that that landscape expresses to both those participating in it and those that experience it as visitors of the campus. The American landscape and its inherent symbols have roots in the 'Grand Tour' when in the 18th century British gentry were searching for republican Rome (or their fantasy of it) with the purpose of exporting it back to England in support of a new British landscape vocabulary – one that supported Enlightenment principles and the rise of a parliamentary-based government. Political landscape gardens like Chiswick, Rousham and Claremont dismiss the influence of French and Dutch monarchical-style gardens for a landscape that is holistically British in character with the not-too-subtle implication that England is the next manifestation of Cicero’s republican Rome – a narrative of Palladian temple forms and ancient statuary set in green lawns and Arcadian fields.
As the United States is a 'budding-off' of the English parliamentary system, it is not surprising that some of that vocabulary has been adopted by American culture as part of our democratic principles – the capitol building in DC, the White House, most City Beautiful structures. But along with those architectural references came lawn – the green, manicured carpet which grows so effectively in the United Kingdom or any other locale where geography and natural properties combine to promote grey skies, abundant moisture and moderate temperatures. Outside of the American Northwest, however, lawn is a water – energy – and chemical-dependent construct – a resource hog.
Some metrics to consider:
In 500 BCE, there were 100,000,000 people in the world. As of March 2012, there are 7 billion people on earth. The amount of fresh water remains the same.
Of the water on Earth, only 2.5% is freshwater; only 3.7% is accessible.
The McKim, Mead & White property is 4.4 acres.
To support one person for one year requires 0.5 acres.
Using one two-stroke push lawnmower is equivalent to 40 cars running for 1 hour.
It takes four hours to mow the Academy’s lawns, equivalent to one car driving from Rome to Florence and back.
Food for Thought: Sustenance and Symbolism is a new landscape framework plan for the Academy – one that supports the vision of a campus that fosters knowledge, establishes social and physical connectivity, is beautiful and supports the highest ideals of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – and establishes the American Academy of Rome as a leader in its peer institutions.
David A. Rubin is the recipient of the Garden Club of America Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture and the founding partner of Land Collective, a landscape architecture and urban design studio committed to practicing with an emphasis on socially-purposeful design strategizes. Educated at Connecticut College and Harvard University, he has taught and lectured at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the University of Pennsylvania School Of Design, the Arboretum School of the Barnes Foundation, the University of Virginia School of Architecture, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture. He has received the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Landscape Design and the projects he has undertaken have received awards and honors from the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
David launched Land Collective after twenty-one years at the acclaimed firm OLIN where he was partner, co-owner, and board member. During that time, he focused on finding new opportunities and expanding the range of practice and OLIN’s presence within the disciplines of landscape architecture and urban design. These accomplishments include: OLIN Placemaking (OLIN’s first monograph representing the work of all of its partners), securing a position on three of the four recent London Embassy competition teams and developing a newly revitalized presence in Europe, participation in the ARC Wildlife Crossing Competition in Colorado, visioning the re-use of a 600-Acre Limestone Quarry, designing Potomac Park Levee on the National Mall in Washington, DC; the creation of a new campus and commons for Eskenazi Health Services Hospital in Indianapolis; two parks – one on each coast – Canal Park in Washington, DC and Plummer Park in West Hollywood, California; the recently opened, critically-acclaimed Lenfest Plaza in Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and a new framework and development plan for Temple University’s main campus entitled Temple 20/20 also in Philadelphia.